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Science in the News

HIGHLIGHTS AND MEDIA

METAFACT - FACT CHECKING FOR SCIENCE!

Sept 26, 2019

Our daily lives are dependent on the choices we make, which are largely governed by access to information. But in today's society technology enables agendas, spin and misinformation to go viral faster than ever before. In fact, a recent study reported that lies spread 6 times faster than the truth! This makes decision making an increasingly challenging task!


Luckily for us, KickStarter funding has enabled a new platform #MetaFact to be born. MetaFact's mission is simple, connect people with trusted evidence on questions that impact their lives, societies and the world around them. They achieve this by sourcing and aggregating answers direct from independent and verified experts to help people make evidence-based decisions. 

This is an approach that is close to my heart, and I am delighted to be a part of this initiative. I will be answering all your questions related to the microbiome and gut health, as well as acting as a moderator to synthesise expert answers into easily digestible summaries.

Got a question? Head along to their website! I will also be posting expert summaries on my blog to make sure you stay up to date with the facts, not the fluff! 

PUPPY POO PILLS

April 26, 2019

We have dedicated a fair chunk of this blog detailing the various applications of poo transplants. Each day, it feels like there is a new ailment seemingly curable with poo! Now, there is a new totally new era of poo transplants... puppy poo pills! 

Just like us, our beloved doggos have a complex ecosystem of bacteria, viruses and fungi that inhabit their guts. Research now suggests that the ecology of their gut microbiome has, just like ours, changed drastically with time. Speculation has focused on the "hygiene hypothesis" and increasing antibiotic use as key drivers of these changes, with some suggesting a link with elevated rates of allergy and infection. 

In humans, faecal transplantation has been conclusively shown to treat Clostridium difficile infection (CDI). Excitingly, oral faecal transplant was recently reported to restore microbial diversity and improve symptoms in a 8-month old dog with CDI. Similarly, faecal transplants are being increasingly considered to treat allergies in both cats and dogs. These new applications are now giving rise to new Kickstarters including Kitty Biome (now Animal Biome). While no publishable results are available, they do report positive results in >80% of their cases. 

So while poo transplants are fast gaining traction in humans, it appears they may also have a vast variety of applications in helping our furry friends! However, like always, we must tread carefully and remember that poo pills aren't a simple fix for all diseases. The microbiome is hugely complex, and we are only beginning to scratch its surface. As always, we do not recommend DIY poo pills for your pooches. 

GETTING TO THE BOTTOM OF SUPER POOERS!

January 22, 2019

For many of us, poo is just ... poo, but new research now suggests that there is a trend of 'super pooers' popping up across the growing number of studies investigating faecal transplants. 

Wilson and colleagues report that faecal transplantations have a variable success rate, and that some donors the success rate is much higher than others.

I had the pleasure of discussing this phenomenon with Belinda Smith, ABC Science Journalist, to get to the bottom of this phenomenon and understand what it means for the future of microbial-targeted interventions. 

https://www.abc.net.au/news/science/2019-01-22/poo-transplant-super-donors-gut-microbiome-microbiology/10726238

WIPING OUR HANDS CLEAN OF OLD POO COLLECTION METHODS

July 18, 2018

As the microbiome becomes an almost unavoidable part of all clinical trials, new methods of collecting and analysing faecal samples are becoming increasingly warranted. Currently, we ask participants to get pretty intimate with their poo, scooping a small portion of their fresh sample into a test tube to be sent to the laboratory. This is, understandably, a significant barrier for some people and leads to compliance issues in many clinical studies.


Luckily, Microba, a Brisbane-based company founded by University of Queensland researchers Philip Hugenholtz and Gene Tyson, has taken a huge step in streamlining the collection of faecal samples.


Their product now allows for a smear of poo from toilet paper to be directly assessed using metagenomic sequencing. Although this type of sequencing is readily performed in numerous laboratories, the simplified collection method has the potential to reduce the burden on people required to donate stool samples, and has therefore caught the attention of many microbiome researchers.  

The group are now collaborating with researcher partners, pathologists and pharmaceutical companies to aid in the collection and analysis of faecal samples, and also has a program of research aimed at developing novel biotherapeutics.   

GUT BACTERIA PUT A HOLD ON EPILEPTIC SEIZURES

June 25, 2018

The microbiota are no longer the new kids on the block for neurological disease, with their role in modulating the gut-brain axis increasingly clear. 

New research now suggests that they may also be critical in mediating epilepsy-induced seizures. 

Authors reported in a case series of 6 children with drug-resistant epilepsy, antibiotic treatment resulted in temporary seizure freedom (in 5/6 children). 

Adding strength to these results was the fact that these seizures returned after cessation of antibiotic treatment. 

This is a new direction for epileptic research, the question now remains how we translate this approach to larger cohorts in a manner that does not contribute to the growing global health problem of antibiotic resistance.  

OUR NEW BLOGGER KATE!

April 11, 2018

You may have notice we have had a few new posts popping up by Kate. So i thought it was time to introduce her! 
My name is Kate Secombe, and I am a PhD candidate at the University of Adelaide. My research is focussed on understanding the connection between the innate immune system and the gut microbiome, and connecting this interaction with the severity of chemotherapy-induced gastrointestinal effects. I am receiving an Australian Government Research Training Program Scholarship and a Lion’s Medical Research Foundation Scholarship to complete my PhD.
I am part of a clinical study looking at patient’s faecal composition, and how their pre-treatment microbiome profile may determine their level of diarrhoea and other side effects. In the lab, I am working on growing organoids, or ‘mini-guts’ that could be used to test various cancer drugs on.
I first became interested in the gastrointestinal system after family members diagnoses with Crohn’s Disease. Now I find it so fascinating how our intestines work to extract everything we need from our food! It is also overwhelming how little we know about the gut microbiome, and how wide-ranging its effect may be. Before beginning my PhD, I researched the role of the receptor TLR4 in chemotherapy-induced diarrhoea, and then worked as a research assistant in the Cancer Treatment Toxicities Group at the University of Adelaide. During this time I worked on a variety of projects devoted to understanding why new targeted therapies for cancers, such as breast cancer and multiple myeloma, cause severe diarrhoea.
I’m excited about travelling to Vienna, Austria this year to present some of my research at a conference.
Outside of the lab, I’m interested in how women are retained and promoted in STEM fields, and am also passionate about the formation of evidence-based health and scientific policy.

Dr Sam Costello

POO SHINES BRIGHT IN THE MEDIA

March 21, 2018

For years, I have been trying to eliminate the the taboo surrounding poo (hence the blog name!). Today marks a momentous occasion as The Advertiser runs a fantastic story highlighting the exciting new applications of faecal microbiota transplantation (FMT). 

The catalyst for this story is the increasingly recognised and supported BiomeBank at the Basil Hetzel Institute, run by the incredibly tenacious Dr Sam Costello. Sam has been instrumental in developing a resource for patients to receive FMT, stating "Our long term aim is to accelerate the development of rationally designed microbial therapeutic products that can do the job of FMT in a more standardised way." 

YAY for poo in mainstream media (thank you Elisa Black for running the story), and props to Sam for his incredible work. 

WE NEED TO CURB THE ENTHUSIASM FOR 'SCIENTIFIC BREAKTHROUGHS'

Aug 17, 2017

"An uncritical media willing to amplify overblown scientific claims makes for a perfect storm of hyperbole with potentially damaging consequences." Robin Bisson


An excellent narrative on the importance of correct scientific reporting following oversimplified reporting of the benefits of vitamin B3 (aka Vegemite) in preventing birth defects. 

Science certainly belongs in the media. Sweeping claims and hyped-up press releases may make for a catchier headline, but can have long-lasting and dangerous implications... case in point Andrew Wakefield who fuelled the angry debate around vaccines and autism.

YOUR ENVIRONMENT, NOT YOUR GENES, SHAPE YOUR GUT MICROBIOME

March 2, 2018

For a long time, our genes were thought to be primarily responsible for the composition of our gut microbiome. However, new research out of Israel published in Nature, suggests that our environment plays a much bigger role. 

Authors showed that people from diverse genetic backgrounds had vastly different microbiome composition. In fact, people that shared a household (and were not genetically related) were much closer in the microbes they shared! 

This research is extremely exciting as it indicates that the microbiome is much more plastic (or malleable) than we once thought, and this gives great potential to change its composition to reduce disease.

CAN'T LOSE WEIGHT... BLAME YOUR MICROBES

September 8, 2017

New research now suggests that weight loss might not just be about what you eat, but what inhabits you... specifically your gut.


Researchers from Denmark and US have today published in The International Journal of Obesity, that diet-induced weight loss can be widely different depending on your gut microbes. 

The study with 62 participants gave two different diets: one to induce weight loss (New Nordic Diet), and the other a Average Nordic Diet. Unsurprisingly, the New Nordic Diet resulted in weight loss. But more interestingly, if the groups were further divided based on the composition of the participant's poo, a greater degree of weight was seen. 

Authors reported that those with high levels of Prevotella relative to Bacteroides spp lost 3.15kg more than people with low levels of bacteria! 

So if the diet isn't working for you, you have permission to blame your gut microbes, and watch this space, maybe we will find a way to exploit these bacteria and beat the bulk! 

STRESS AND MEDITATION ... THE NEW KIDS ON THE BACTERIA BLOCK

Jan 9, 2018

As we begin to scratch the surface of the microbiome, we are identifying increasingly more factors that shape the amount and types of bacteria that inhabit our guts. 

New research now suggests that stress plays a critical role in determining the health of our microbiome. Importantly, it has been shown that stress causes a decrease in factors that calm the immune system (anti-inflammatory cytokines) leading to chronic inflammation. 

So is meditation and stress relief the key to a healthy gut microbiome...? Maybe... but I think we need more research. 

CELEBRATING CREATIVE YOUNG MINDS IN SCIENCE

Aug 17, 2017

The Centenary Institute's Medical Innovation Award is open to the public for voting. This award recognises bold young researchers who are taking risks to ask the big questions of today. 

Did you know that 80% of the biggest scientific discoveries (Nobel Laureates) coming from researchers that are <45 years old, yet the proportion of government funding for young scientists is of a step downward trajectory. 

So celebrate and support the young minds of today by logging in and casting your vote for the People's Choice Award. 

SUPPORTING WOMEN IN STEM

September 22, 2017

As a young female scientist, i want it all... a career in science and a family. But given that most promotions are determined by numbers of papers published, research grant income and numbers of postgraduate students supervised, can we truly expect women to remain competitive in the current climate? 

"The message has been sold successfully to women that they can have both successful careers and flourishing families. But, in reality this is extremely difficult because the system, both structurally and culturally, fails to provide practical support to working women. Understandably, immersing women in this pressure cooker of managing both career and children effectively persuades career women to bear fewer children than they otherwise would and this is surely one reason why birth rates are falling in the developed world."

William Reville stresses a formula must be devised to ensure women are not handicapped in the promotion stakes because of time devoted to having and raising children, emphasising the need for cultural and structural change.