August 2, 2011

Alkek Center For Metagenomics And Microbiome Research Features Research On Role Of Commensal Microbiota In Human Health

The Alkek Center for Metagenomics and Microbiome Research at Baylor College of Medicine, under the direction of Dr. Joseph Petrosino, builds on local expertise in the study of how the microbiota that colonize the human body (the microbiome) impact health and disease.

The center is coordinating and leading research and development efforts in this area across the college, the Texas Medical Center and with collaborators from around the United States and abroad.

Established in January of 2011, the center focuses on the organisms that comprise the microbiome, the genetic makeup of these bacteria, viruses and fungi and how these microorganisms (called commensal because the organisms live with human cells) interact with human cells and tissues during the course of life.

Metagenomic and microbiome research

Petrosino, assistant professor in the BCM department of molecular virology and microbiology, hopes that the new center "will serve as a lightning rod for metagenomic and microbiome-related research activities at BCM and throughout the Texas Medical Center while continuing to attract national and international collaborators. Our mission is to discover how commensal microbes impact human health and see that new discoveries are rapidly translated to the clinic in the form of novel therapeutics and diagnostics."

The center, supported in part with a generous donation from the Albert and Margaret Alkek Foundation, will collaborate with the BCM Human Genome Sequencing Center, under the direction of Dr. Richard Gibbs, for sequencing expertise, and will also cooperate with the Texas Children's Microbiome Center under the direction of Dr. James Versalovic, professor of pathology & immunology at BCM.

Other collaborating investigators and projects the center is involved with include:

    * Dr. Kjersti Aagaard, BCM department of obstetrics and gynecology, on the association between the microbiome and pre-term birth

    * Dr. Herbert DuPont, BCM department of medicine, and Dr. Sarah Highlander, BCM department of molecular virology and microbiology, on the association between the microbiome and susceptibility to travelers' diarrhea

    * Dr. Dan Jones and Dr. Stephen Pflugfelder, both with the BCM department of ophthalmology, on the microbiome of the surface of the eye and its association with health and disease

    * Dr. Sheldon Kaplan, BCM department of pediatrics, on the association of viruses to Kawasaki syndrome, an acute illness that impacts children and is a major cause of acquired heart disease

    * Dr. Ming Hu, University of Houston College of Pharmacy's department of pharmacological and pharmaceutical sciences, on how the microbiome impacts the effectiveness of ginseng as a lung cancer therapeutic and how the microbiome may be manipulated to serve as a detoxifying agent for certain chemotherapy drugs.

The Alkek Center for Metagenomics and Microbiome Research is in the process of recruiting new staff and tenure-track faculty members and is developing a pilot project program that will serve to initiate and catalyze microbiome research projects over the next four years.


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