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Micro Size, Macro Opportunity: Looking for New Applications of our Microbiome

The "microbiome" is a bustling city of diverse and dynamic bacteria, and its potential for helping patients has scientists and researchers excited for the future.

The human body is a pretty amazing place: it is home to a beautiful, complex world of systems and organisms that all work together to keep our species thriving.

Part of this ecosystem includes the trillions of bacteria living primarily in the gut: bacteria that perform a wide variety of functions, including a role in running a healthy digestive and immune system.

Around 160 types of bacteria are constantly interacting in the healthy human gut.

Among the scientific community, there is a huge and growing interest in what's called the "microbiome" as a potentially groundbreaking new pathway that can be targeted for treating a range of illnesses. We've long known about the role of bacteria in some digestive diseases - but scientists now believe this is only the tip of the iceberg.

What is the microbiome?

What is the microbiome? The total genetic material of all of the microorganisms in a particular environment is defined as the microbiome. The environment may be a city, a soil sample, or all of the microorganisms in a part of the human body.

Microbiome: Big Variety in a Small Package

Think of the gut like a big, bustling city: a very, very busy place where 1 trillion microbes and least 160 bacterial species are constantly interacting with each other and with the cells lining the lumen of our gut. That type of interaction is so vast and complex that it's easy to see how delicate and complex the balance is within our bodies.

What is becoming more evident - and what has scientists excited - is that the microbiome environment may have a big impact on our health, beginning with the health of our gut.

When the bacteria in our gut are in balance, our digestive system has the best chance of being healthy. When this balance is offset and certain bacteria populations are reduced or increased, the bacterial community doesn't work properly, and that's when our health can be compromised.

The microbiome is an ecosystem of all the microorganisms in certain parts of the human body.

Some people may be familiar with the role the microbiome plays in gastro-intestinal (GI) diseases. One of these is the infection called Clostridium difficile, or "C Diff," which results from the disruption of normal healthy bacteria in the colon, often from antibiotics. Clinicians know that the key to treating this condition is by restoring a bacterial balance in the microbiome, and they have seen some early successes in treating this disease through their understanding of it.

Scientists have found initial success by targeting the microbiome to treat diseases like C Diff. Now they are taking their research a step further to understand the "why?" behind it.

The microbiome is the combined genetic material of microorganisms in a certain environment. Think of it as a city within a city. And it's huge (1014 microorganisms) and complex (comprised of more than 1,000 distinct species). Like any thriving city, it is diverse and dynamic: it contains a wide variety of organisms and is constantly changing in order to serve its environment best.

When the healthy balance of bacteria in the gut is thrown off, it can result in diseases like C Diff.

Microbiome and the Development of Future Treatment

Each disease, like C Diff, has a "signature" - a unique profile. Scientists believe if we can understand those signatures and the changes associated with the disease, we could be a step closer to treating or curing diseases through microbiome-based treatments.

For companies like Takeda, understanding the microbiome and its potential therapeutic applications is very important. Initial research has demonstrated potential roles in our focus diseases like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and cancer - which impact millions of patients every year. 

In the world of pharmaceutical research and development, modulation of the microbiome represents an important future opportunity. As the emerging science behind it develops in the coming years, its impact on the industry as a whole has potentially far-reaching implications that are very exciting when we think about new ways of helping patients.