4th Annual Translational Microbiome Conference: Day One Summary

The Microbiome Insights team is pleased to be exhibiting at the 4th Annual Translational Microbiome Conference in Boston! The first day of the main program was filled with talks that covered an excellent breadth of topics having to do with the microbiome field.

Beyond sequencing

A highlight of the morning was a lecture by Peter Christey (Co-Founder and CEO of General Automation Lab Technologies, or GALT) on “Going Beyond Sequencing – New Research Tools in the Era of the Microbiome”. Christey explained that next-generation sequencing provides an amazing window into the microbiome, but it does have its limitations. Comparing cultures with culture-independent techniques on the same sample shows that adding a small cultivation step in the process allows observation of many more OTUs per sample. Christey argued that for the best insights, a mix of old and new techniques is necessary—both next-generation sequencing and wet lab techniques.

Precision medicine

Morten L. Isaksen (CEO of Bio-Me AS) then spoke about “A Microbiome-based Approach to Precision Medicine and Personalized Nutrition”. Isaksen described GutCheck—a gut health test that can be combined with data from biobanks that are available. The company links a person’s profile with several medical databases to gain insights on how the microbiome relates to drug consumption and other factors.

Main track: Skin microbiome & cancer immunotherapies

From there, the sessions separated into two tracks: a main track and a consumer track. In the main track, audience members heard from Travis Whitfill (Co-Founder and CSO of Azitra, Inc) on “Translational Challenges in the Skin Microbiome”. Whitfill emphasized the need to eliminate the idea of ‘good’ bacteria and ‘bad’ bacteria, arguing the importance of knowing bacterial strain characteristics.

Vancheswaran Gopalakrishnan ( Translational Scientist, Computational & Analytics Support, & MD at Anderson Cancer Center, The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston) spoke about a hot area: “Impact of Microbiome on Immunotherapy Response”. Gopalakrishnan is working with Seres Therapeutics to identify whether fecal microbiota transplantation, compared to probiotics or lifestyle changes, is the best way of shifting the microbiome into a state associated with a favorable response to cancer immunotherapies. This talk was followed by a panel with Gopalakrishnan and others on immunotherapies and the microbiome, moderated by Take Ogawa (Director, Business Development, Second Genome). Panelists discussed the need to find out what is happening mechanistically in the individuals who respond favorably to immunotherapies. Bernat Olle (CEO, Vedanta Biosciences) outlined the need for harmonizing the observations on which microbe communities might drive the response.

Gut microbiome modulation

Continuing after the lunch break, the talks in the main track turned to microbiome modulation. Mark Smith (CEO, Finch Therapeutics) presented on “Reverse Translation for Therapeutic Development in the Human Microbiome”. He described the dual approach of delivering entire microbial communities to individuals in order to have immediate efficacy, and then working to modulate the microbiome over time.

Next, Assaf Oron (CBO, BiomX) spoke about “A Novel Therapeutic Approach To IBD Through Microbiome Modulation”. Oron explained some individuals with IBD have bacteria residing in the body that bring about flare-ups. So when they come into the clinic they are asked to take a fecal sample; the company tests the pro-inflammatory bacteria and then introduce a phage to eradicate them. They take into account geography, microbiome, and clinical phenotype. At present, a topical gel containing a customized phage cocktail to modulate the skin microbiome is going through clinical trials.

Later in the day, David Kyle (CSO, Evolve Biosystems) spoke about going “From Dysbiosis to Recovery in the Infant Gut Microbiome”. He covered the differences observed in the microbiomes of infants today as compared to previous decades, and how the company is developing solutions to help human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) be digested by bacteria in the infant digestive tract, thereby elevating the beneficial short-chain fatty acids acetate and lactate in the i

New tools could mean profound changes ahead in medicine, says Canadian Medical Hall of Fame inductee Dr. Brett Finlay

Six exceptional individuals have been inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame in 2018 — and one of them is Microbiome Insights’ co-founder Dr. B. Brett Finlay, University of British Columbia Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the Faculty of Medicine, and Peter Wall Distinguished Professor at the Michael Smith Laboratories.

The honour recognizes contributions to medicine and the health sciences that have had an extraordinary impact on human health.

Dr. Finlay is a microbiome knowledge leader whose work has explored the role of microorganisms in human health and disease — in particular, asthma and malnutrition. His discoveries have led to the development of several human and animal vaccines, and to treatments for drug-resistant infections like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). (See Finlay’s full biography here.)

Below, we share a conversation with this esteemed member of our team — covering his career accomplishments and what he sees as the future of medicine.

Over the years, you must have overcome many challenges. What has driven you to do the things you’ve done in science and medicine?

I have always loved science, and the idea of using science to improve the world, including peoples’ lives, has always been a driving factor for me. Of course there are challenges, but as scientists we have the privilege to explore an exciting frontier, and find things never found before. Of course there are challenges, but all things worth doing have them, and being able to do science that has the potential to change the world is the greatest gift a scientist can have.

In your long and broad-ranging career, what medicine-related accomplishment or recognition are you most proud of?

The neat thing about science is you never know where it will take you. We are fortunate to have many successes. Some of the highlights include developing a vaccine to E. coli O157, developing the first SARS vaccine, and showing the early life microbiome plays a role in determining asthma are but a few. I am also proud of the book I co-wrote, Let Them Eat Dirt, and the new one I am finishing, The Whole Body Microbiome: Healthy aging with your microbes. This has allowed us to share the wonder and excitement of the microbiome with so many people. It is also changing how they look after their children with healthy benefits, which excites me tremendously, being able to promote child health through science education.

How do you think medicine is changing now?

I am biased, but I think medicine is about to undergo a profound change. Genomics, personalized medicine, and the microbiome will all play a major role in this upheaval. The ability to sequence a person’s genome or microbiome, to do a metabolomic analysis of a person’s urine, or a proteomic analysis of they blood all provide wonderful new tools to really figure out what is going on in a person, and then hopefully be able to treat based on molecular knowledge. The development of Crispr-Cas 9 could easily revolutionize gene therapy as well.

What innovations or directions in medicine do you see as uniquely Canadian?

Canada hits above its weight in science [but] science is global, and builds upon the shoulders of others, so to claim a geographic specialty is difficult. Canadian scientists are involved in many of the groundbreaking findings worldwide.

How do you hope your own work will lay the foundation for a different kind of medicine in future?

I strongly believe the microbiome will radically change medicine. If you take the top 10 reasons Canadians die, 9 of those 10 now have microbial links. Similarly, we know the microbiome plays a profound role in how our body develops early in life. There are so many areas of medicine the microbiome is impacting, the inside joke is “what area isn’t affected”! The other advantage of the microbiome is that we can change it easily, unlike our own genes. This means its application should be easier than gene therapy or developing drugs — drugging the “bugs” will be a whole new area of pharmacy in the future.

The 2018 Canadian Medical Hall of Fame (CMHF) induction ceremony was held on April 12, 2018, in London, Ontario (Canada). See the CMHF video of Dr. Finlay here.