Science Market Update

Intestinal Microbes Curb Obesity at WUSTL

Posted by Sam Asher on Thu, Sep 12, 2013

One of the current trends in life science research is to find the microbes behind the processes and phenomenon with which we’re already familiar. Once we understand the role that bacteria play, we can replicate, enhance, or halt their methods as we need to. Such is the case at the Washington University at St. Louis, where bioresearchers are better understanding the microbes in our intestines in order to take a stab at obesity.

WUSTL bioresearcherJeffrey Gordon, MD, is the director of the Center for Genome Sciences & Systems Biology at Washington University. He believes that the microbes living in the intestines of leaner people are more diverse than those inside the intestines of obese people, and include microbes that prevent insulin resistance. For reference, insulin resistance is linked to weight gain and is one of the first warning signs of diabetes.

Though not everyone has these “lean” microbes, Gordon believes there’s room for them in every intestine, even those without much microbial diversity. “We think the lack of diversity leaves open niches – or jobs, if you will – that can be filled by microbes associated with leanness,” he says in a WUSTL press release.

To test this theory, Gordon and a team of WUSTL researchers devised an experiment in which intestinal microbes of lean and obese humans were placed in the intestines of lean and obese mice. As expected, “lean” microbes had no effect on lean mice, and “obese” microbes had no effect on obese mice. “Obese” microbes also had no effect on lean mice, supporting Gordon’s theory that lean intestines already contain all the microbes that exist in obese intestines. Most interestingly, obese mice introduced to “lean” microbes prevented weight gain and halted insulin resistance.

If this sounds like an oversimplified solution, prepare for the catch: these results only occurred in experiments where the mice were fed diets low in saturated fats and high in fruits and vegetables. When obese mice were given “lean” microbes but kept on a diet high in saturated fats, there was no effect. The “lean” microbes died off and so did not prevent weight gain and insulin resistance. The lesson to be learned here is that intestinal microbe transfer is a viable treatment for obesity and possibly even diabetes, but it must be accompanied by a healthy diet.

WUSTL bioresearchers

(Jeffrey Gordon discusses the research with colleague Vanessa Ridaura, courtesy WUSTL)

The research at WUSTL does not stop here. “Ideally, you want to be able to grow these naturally occurring unmodified human gut microbes in a lab and test whether various combinations of these organisms, with or without specified diet ingredients, can treat and/or prevent disease,” concludes Gordon.

Funding for this particular study came from four NIH grants and support from the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, Kraft Foods and Mondelez International. For a more detailed report on research funding and university grants for the Washington University at St. Louis, read our WUSTL Funding Statistics Report:

Washington Funding Research

Biotechnology Calendar, Inc. holds our St. Louis BioResearch Product Faire™ event on the WUSTL campus ever year. This show is an excellent opportunity for life science scientists and laboratory equipment suppliers to network and discuss their research needs and solutions. To see our complete 2013 show scheduleclick here.

Tags: Midwest, 2013, Washington University, Missouri, WashU, WUSTL, BioResearch Product Faire Event, Saint Louis

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