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The Microbiome--The Next Phase of Precision Medicine?

Each of us is colonized by a unique population of microbes that outnumber the cells in our body by a factor of ten. Collectively their genetic material is referred to as the microbiome, and it's at least 150 times larger than the human genome.

We're just beginning to understand the critical role that microbes play in health and disease, although an explosion of research has begun to yield valuable insights into autoimmunity, chronic inflammation, and a surprising number of other conditions.

For example, at Weill Cornell Medicine, Dr. David Artis is discovering how changes in our gut microbiota can affect our susceptibility to chronic inflammatory diseases, including psoriasis, arthritis, and inflammatory bowel disease. Dr. Randy Longman has identified a correlation between increased levels of the bacteria Prevotella copri and rheumatoid arthritis. Dr. Greg Sonnenberg's research has shown how a type of immune cell that resides in the intestine helps keep "good" microbes properly localized to the gut. These insights open up exciting new avenues for developing more effective treatments for inflammatory disease.

In 2005, J. Robin Warren and Barry Marshall won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discovering that the bacterium H. pylori was a cause of peptic ulcers. This finding, which was highly controversial when first proposed, led to a simple antibiotic treatment that provided relief to millions of people.

I think that current work on the microbiome could have an even greater impact on human health. Precision medicine promises to revolutionize healthcare by considering individual factors, including our genetic makeup. Perhaps in the future, it'll take our individual microbiomes--so strongly influenced by diet and lifestyle--into account too.

Posted March 22, 2016 10:51 AM | Permalink to this post

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