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From Bugs to Brains: Event Recap

Dr. Helen Tremlett and her team brought together researchers from a variety of disciplines for a half-day event to foster collaborative efforts in gut microbiome research and its relation to brain health on February 5, 2016.

Speakers included world-renowned microbiome researchers, such as Dr. Brett Finlay, a Peter Wall Distinguished Professor, who kicked off the conference with his compelling work on the gut-lung connection. Dr. Finlay identified a strong link between gut microbes and the subsequent risk of asthma and allergies in children enrolled in the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development (CHILD) Study. Dr. Finlay is now applying similar methods to the study of Parkinson’s disease with Dr. Brian MacVicar.  

Dr. Marc Horwitz, the Sauder Chair of Pediatric Virology focused on how the virome affects multiple sclerosis (MS) risk. Using a mouse model of MS, Dr. Horwitz has explored possible mechanisms by which EBV infection modulates an autoimmune response.

Dr. Lisa Osborne, the Canada Research Chair in Host-Microbiome Interactions, is establishing a lab at UBC with a focus on the gut multibiome and its effect on host health and immunity.

Dr. Fiona Brinkman, Professor at Simon Fraser University, discussed the importance of bioinformatics in the study of the microbiome.

This multi-disciplinary workshop concluded with two speakers specialized in applied epidemiology. Dr. Amee Manges’ focus has been on nutrition and development, she presented work from Malawi that highlighted the role of the gut microbiota and Kwashiorkor, a disorder caused by severe protein deficiency. She presented results also suggesting that the microbiota may influence growth faltering based on data from children in Malawi and Bangladesh. Based at the School of Population and Public Health and the BC Centre for Disease Control, Dr. Manges is an avid proponent of blended research, which utilizes the strengths of epidemiology and basic science.

Dr. Helen Tremlett's research has largely concentrated on the epidemiology of MS, and most recently has examined the gut microbiome of children with MS. Her pilot study found significant differences - namely a higher preponderance of specific bacteria - amongst children with MS compared to children without.

The meeting concluded with an interactive discussion centered on the following two questions: 

  • What would facilitate your microbiome research program to include a neurological condition and/or collaboration with member(s) of DMCBH?
  • How do we build a multi-disciplinary research community focused on the microbiome in BC?

The group highlighted a need for a centralized access to expertise and standardization of research practices, as well as the importance of regular meetings to foster communication between researchers.

A monthly microbiome seminar series and journal club has now been established at the DMCBH, starting March 2016. These efforts may even pave the way for a Centre for Microbiome Research in BC at UBC, providing a central hub for the pursuit of cutting-edge microbiome studies.