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‘What to expect when you’re expecting to grow old’: An interview with Whole Body Microbiome co-authors, Drs. Jessica and Brett Finlay

As microbiome science advances rapidly, the number of books on microbiome-related topics is growing—yet it can be difficult to find reliable, science-based information. The hottest new microbiome book not only contains robust scientific information, but has suggestions on how to apply the findings throughout the lifespan: The Whole-Body Microbiome, written by Microbiome Insights co-founder Dr. Brett Finlay, along with his daughter Dr. Jessica Finlay, an environmental gerontologist.

The new book is a practical take on how to use the latest knowledge about the microbiome for healthy aging, with the father-daughter pair offering perspectives from multiple scientific fields and different points in the lifespan. Jessica Finlay brings to bear her pioneering work in the area of ‘applied clinical geography’, while Brett Finlay (a recent Canadian Medical Hall of Fame inductee) brings decades of insights gained from his scientific work in medical microbiology and immunology.

In this interview, the Drs. Finlay describe how their personal worlds were changed by their knowledge about the human microbiome—and how their book can be put to use, not only by members of the general public, but also by fellow scientists and medical professionals.

What gap did you hope to fill by writing this book?

 JF: What to expect when you’re expecting to grow old? While there is an entire industry devoted to preparing expectant parents, scant resources guide us on how to grow old. This is especially true if you’re looking for scientifically-based, accurate information to inform lifestyle, diet, household, and health practices. The major gap we aimed to fill was scientifically-based knowledge on aging and longevity, distilled for a wide audience. The microbiome’s effects on healthy aging has not yet been covered in popular literature.

While there is a lot of hype about the gut microbiome, we in fact know that microbial communities all over our bodies affect how our brain, teeth, skin, heart, gut, bones, immune system, and nearly every other body part functions as we progress through life. Our wellbeing is also intimately to the microbes that surround us – on our cellphones, kitchen sponges, houseplants, pets, and desks. In the book we take a holistic approach to the microbes in and around us (not just in the gut) to explore how they are integral to a healthy and long life.

We focus on aging as a lifelong process in Whole-Body Microbiome. You don’t just suddenly ‘flip the switch’ and become old at, say, 65. We accumulate health risks and liabilities throughout our entire lifetimes. The book offers lifestyle strategies and “quick tips” that we can all take advantage of, whether we’re eighteen or eighty.

BF: Having already written a book for parents on early life microbes—and not getting any younger—we wanted to discuss microbes and healthy aging. It was important to us not just to focus on ‘the elderly’, but on the entire aging process, which includes adults of all ages.

What are a few of the main messages in your book?

BF:  We live in harmony (usually) with our microbes, and they play a much larger role in our body’s functions than we once thought.  By paying attention to our microbes, we can have significant effects on many aging processes.

JF: Yes, the first main message is to embrace our microbes! They are lifelong partners who are heavily impacted by our lifestyle decisions, and necessary for our health and longevity.

We detail three overarching strategies that intertwine healthy microbes and healthy aging:

(1) Consume a balanced diet filled with fiber (e.g., fruits, nuts, vegetables, whole grains, berries), fermented foods, and limited meat and refined sugars.

(2) Stay active: This doesn’t necessarily mean marathon training, but rather moving around regularly throughout the day, engaging in varied aerobic and strength activities.

(3) Stay engaged with others: Regular social contact with family, friends, and extended networks is important for our wellbeing – and our microbes as well! We deposit, swap, and share microbes every time we shake hands, hug, play cards, eat communally, and share spaces.

As scientists, how has the microbiome changed the way you think?

BF:  I now see the world through a veneer of microbes! Even though we can’t see them, they are there and can affect many things.

 JF: My outlook on the world has also shifted: I now pause to consider my microbes when shopping for groceries, brushing my teeth, sending a text message, washing my hands, talking to my doctor, hugging a family member, going for a run, and gardening.

I also now see microbial connections in my research as an environmental gerontologist: when I consider the level of cleanliness and sanitization in a private home or assisted living facility; microbial exposures in later life through pets, socializing, hospitalizations, and even houseplants; and everyday diet, lifestyle, and health habits that impact older people’s microflora.

How can your professional colleagues make use of this book?

BF: It is based on peer-reviewed science, so scientists will appreciate it. They can use it for their own personal improvement, or if they specialize in one area, they can get a broad overview of the wonderful and amazing invisible world of microbes that live in and on us.

JF: We distill peer-reviewed scientific research and include interviews with leading scientific and medical experts in each chapter. Taking into account the rapid scientific advances and exploding knowledge, we take the current ‘pulse’ of microbiome research as it relates to adult health and longevity.

In addition to providing relevant information that can inform personal health and diet/lifestyle decisions, we aim to inspire our professional colleagues and fellow scientists to keep pursuing this fascinating and important area of research. This includes figuring out specific microbial genes and mechanisms responsible for particular effects in and on our bodies. We need more studies and data!

What tips do you have about microbiome-related science communication?

BF: Some of us scientists work with microbes and see evidence of what they do every day. But most people have a hard time appreciating microbes because they can’t see them. Convincing people of the invisible is hard. However, we know they have profound effects on both health and disease—and it is these aspects that we can focus on.

JF: There is a lot of hype and misinformation surrounding microbiome-related science: from misleading websites, to health claims (say, for probiotics) not supported by adequate clinical trials. It is important to be clear about what statements are supported by rigorous science, what statements are ‘not quite there yet’ (in terms of extrapolating findings from existing data), and what statements are downright wrong. This was an important task for us when writing the book. Beyond this, we recommend directing audiences to valid sources of information, such as PubMed and other academic search engines, for peer-reviewed articles/reviews, to stay informed.

 

PRESS RELEASE: Microbiome Insights receives funding from the Government of Canada to develop new microbiome testing platform for managing chronic disease

Vancouver, British Columbia (September 12, 2018)—Microbiome Insights, Inc. is pleased to announce that it will receive a contribution of up to $190,249 from the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC IRAP) to help support the development of a new personal health platform of microbiome testing.

Co-founded by Drs. Brett Finlay and Bill Mohn at University of British Columbia in 2015, Microbiome Insights is a rapidly growing company and a global leader in microbiome testing and bioinformatic analysis. The advisory services and financial assistance from the Government of Canada, through NRC IRAP, will help the company expand in a new direction—continuing to develop tools for use in clinical settings as new data emerge on the gut microbiome and health.

“We’re leveraging our expertise in microbiome testing to develop a suite of tools for monitoring chronic disease in clinical practice,” says Microbiome Insights CEO Malcolm Kendall. “From the practitioner interface to the educational components of the test, our team is taking a fresh approach that is going to change the game for microbiome testing.”

The primary aim of the company’s personal health platform is to help address the challenges both healthcare practitioners and individuals face in the management of chronic disease.  Microbiome monitoring in those with chronic disease may provide a tool for assessing response to therapies or to various lifestyle changes (including diet), particularly when integrated with robust research findings and ongoing data collection.

The company’s new testing platform will be aimed at health practitioners helping individuals who live with inflammatory bowel disease. The efforts are led by Nataša Jovic, MBA, who brings to the company twenty years of experience in therapeutic and diagnostic commercialization. The company is currently exploring opportunities to commercialize its platform of microbiome tests for healthcare practitioners through research collaborations and distribution or joint commercialization efforts.

See the original BusinessWire press release here.

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

Banff Keystone Symposia on Gut Microbiota: Day Two Summary

March 6, 2018 marked the second day of the joint Keystone Symposia in Banff, Canada: (1) “Manipulation of the Gut Microbiota for Metabolic Health” and (2) “Microbiome, Host Resistance and Disease”.

Morning sessions were split into two tracks. The first track covered microbiota and metabolic disorders, with two initial talks by François Leulier (Institut de Génomique Fonctionnelle de Lyon) on gut microbiota and host mutualism in chronic undernutrition, and Emily P. Balskus (Harvard University) on microbiota-drug interactions.

The complex development of early life gut microbiota and immune function was the topic covered by the second track. Maria Gloria Dominguez-Bello (Rutgers University) gave an overview of what we know about how C-section birth is linked with later-life disease through the gut microbiota, showing the associations that exist in human populations and the causal evidence that exists in mouse models. Andrew J. S. Macpherson (University of Bern) then gave a detailed account of early postnatal innate immune development, showing how the site of microbe administration shapes distinct repertoires of IgA and IgG antibodies from mature B cells, and how these antibodies are found in several sites through the host. Subsequent talks branched out to other immune-related topics linked to skin commensals, and also the gut-brain axis (i.e. a gut bacterial metabolite that causes behavioural abnormalities related to anxiety and autism spectrum disorder).

The evening’s sessions were divided into one track on gut barrier alterations and host metabolic disorders, and one on mechanistic microbiome function in physiology and aging. A highlight of the evening was the account given by Lora Hooper (University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center) of mechanisms linking circadian rhythm with adipose tissue development: in mouse models, she found a conventional microbiota drives immune system regulation of circadian rhythms, resulting in more long-chain fatty acid uptake on a high-fat diet, and ultimately an increase in adipose tissue. Participants in the evening session also heard a talk by Michiel Kleerebezem focusing on the microbiota of the small intestine and how a robotic capsule can be used to track the effects of a dietary intervention.

We’ll be tweeting again on Wednesday! Look for the conference hashtags, #KSmicrobiome and #KSgut.

At Understand Your Genome event, Microbiome Insights participates in latest discussions on genome sequencing for disease prediction and prevention

Microbiome Insights Inc. was an exhibitor and sponsor at the third annual Boston Understand Your Genome conference, held on Nov. 14, 2017. The all-day event centered on the progress and promise of genomic medicine and the issues regarding sequencing the genomes of healthy individuals for disease prediction and prevention.

The conference topics included sequencing and informatics in clinical care, precision health, and understanding the basics of genetics and genomics. Among the event’s speakers were Dr. Hannah Valantine, Chief Officer for Scientific Workforce Diversity at the National Institutes of Health, who discussed racial disparities in organ transplant outcomes and diversity issues in genomics; and Dr. Calum MacRae, Chief of Cardiology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, who spoke about the need for a robust global phenotype effort to replace the outdated diagnostic guidelines used today.

All conference participants were also offered the opportunity to have their genome sequenced and analyzed for genes and variants associated with adult-onset conditions, carrier status, and drug response.

Events

Microbiome Skin Health & Dermatology Summit

Microbiome Insights, Inc. is proud to be the founding partner for the inaugural Microbiome Skin Health and Dermatology Summit, a part of the Microbiome Movement Series. The aim of this event is to show how we can better understand the mechanisms behind microbial interactions on the skin, and to discuss standardization of metagenomics research and effective product development. Over 100 key opinion leaders, senior drug and cosmetic developers, and technology experts will descend on San Diego, CA (USA) from September 10th to 12th with the goal of accelerating development, discovery, and commercialization of dermatological therapeutics and next-generation cosmetics, all founded on clinically validated microbiome research. We hope to see you there!

Microbiome Animal Health Summit

The team from Microbiome Insights is bringing its expertise to the upcoming Microbiome Animal Health Summit, May 23- 24, 2018 in St. Louis, MO (USA) where they will be participating as exhibitors. This inaugural animal health event is part of the Hanson Wade Microbiome Movement Series, which encompasses several events designed to translate microbiome research into commercial products in the pharmaceutical, agriculture, and nutritional R&D fields. The summit is the only industry-focused event dedicated to evidence-based investigation of disease causation rather than correlation. Speakers from industry and academia will present on the topics of the animal microbiome as the next disruptive innovation in agriculture, finding function of the gut microbiota, tools and technologies for mining the microbiome, regulatory uncertainty, building a discovery therapeutics platform ,and patentability of the animal microbiome.