Twenty years ago, bacteria were seen as the public enemy number one of human health. Today, we know that many of them are actually beneficial and may even be required to keep us healthy.
This new understanding of the relationship between the human body and the microorganisms living on or in it was brought about by research into the human microbiome. The term microbiome describes all the microorganisms living in a given environment, for example the human gut. Given that the number of microbial cells is far larger than the number of human cells in a body, it is not surprising that the former actually play an important role in human health. Over the past years links between the microbiome in the gut and diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, obesity and even Parkinson’s disease have been established.
Linking bacteria to obesity & diabetes
Even though the field of human microbiome research has made major progress, we still do not fully understand how and why these microorganisms cause, or maybe prevent, disease. However, it seems that the composition of the whole microbial environment and the balance between different species can make the difference between health and sickness. This is especially true for the gut, where, the higher your bacterial diversity, the healthier you will be, at least when it comes to your waistline. In 2016, a study carried out by the LCSB (Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine), the CHL (Centre Hospitalier de Luxembourg), the CHEM (Centre Hospitalier Emile Mayrisch) and IBBL untangled the links between gut microbiome and type 1 diabetes. Researchers showed clear differences in the way bacteria function between healthy and diabetic individuals. This study is a prime example of the great promise that research into the human microbiome holds, because in many cases it can be easily modified by diet, probiotics or fecal transplants. However, before any of these interventions make their way into the clinic it is important to further elucidate the complex network of interactions between the bacterial communities and human cells.
Microbiome research in Luxembourg
For several years now, Luxembourg-based researchers have been very active in the field of microbiome research. In 2016, the Luxembourg Society for Microbiology was founded by IBBL, the BioHealth Cluster, the LIST (Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology), the LNS (Laboratoire National de Santé), the LIH (Luxembourg Institute of Health) and the LCSB in order to consolidate all the activities in the field of microbiology on the national level. The overall ambition of the society is to provide a forum for interaction and exchange of knowledge and expertise in microbiology. The “First Luxembourg Microbiology Day” held one year later was a great success and the occasion for its members to come together and foster new synergies.
Becoming microbiome experts
In addition to collecting biological samples for studies, we support microbiome research by evaluating diffrerent ways to process microbiome samples. For example, our scientists recently tested six different stool collection tubes and three different methods to extract DNA from stool samples, to determine which one is optimal. In 2016, IBBL became the first biobank worldwide to be accredited for the next-generation 16S rRNA gene sequencing, an in-house developed method that allows scientists to obtain the complete bacterial profile of a given sample.
Being committed to the microbiome as a priority research domain, we also co-organised the 5th International Human Microbiome Congress (IHMC) from the 31st March to the 2nd April 2015 in Luxembourg. Under the title “Future Directions for Human Microbiome Research in Health and Disease”, the congress welcomed 50 renowned microbiome expert speakers and over 600 participants, from all corners of the world. For three days, the scientists discussed new research methods, potential therapies, and the latest findings on the role of the microbiome in human disease.
Our national projects
IBBL is involved in a number of national research projects on the microbiome, in close collaboration with all major biomedical research and healthcare actors in Luxembourg. Below a selection of some of our latest projects.
The research project project aims to identify the colorectal cancer (CRC) associated changes in the structure and function of the microbial community along the human gastrointestinal tract. Its higher objective is to implement a new, non-invasive model for the early detection of CRC based on the existing Faecal Occult Blood Test. IBBL is in charge of the collection, processing, transport, aliquoting and storage of the samples (blood, saliva, urine).
IBBL provides DNA Extraction from stool samples, DNA quality control by Spectrofluorometry and 16S Sequencing to Luxia, a Luxembourg start-up which aims to provide data and dietary advice to consumers based on the analysis of their gut microbiome.