Professor Graham Le Gros and Dr Kathy McCoy

TV One, International Gut Microbiome expert returns to Malaghan Institute

10 July 2015

Professor Graham Le Gros and Dr Kathy McCoy

International Gut Microbiome expert Dr Kathy McCoy visited recently from Switzerland.  In the last two decades, since she was Professor Graham Le Gros’ PhD student, she has become an authoritative commentator on gut microbiome; the trillions of non-human organisms and cells that live in us, and their importance to our immune system.

Now an Assistant Professor of the Department of Clinical Research at University of Bern in Switzerland, Kathy McCoy says, “We are more a superorganism than just human, and we need to adjust to that.  Our combined gut microbiome is larger than our liver and is an organ in the same way.”

While in New Zealand TVNZ took the opportunity to interview her at the Malaghan Institute.  She spoke about the development or colonisation process of the gut microbiome from birth; as the baby in the womb is protected from the vast array of microbes in the outer world.  At birth we begin our lifelong interaction with good and bad, helpful or hostile microbes, while in parallel we are building up our own unique gut microbiome. 

The first two to three years of life is a dynamic process and we think it is vital to establishing a health immune system.  It is increasingly seen as a critical window for immune system development.  While research has discovered our microbiome is in a constant “cross-talk” with the immune system, exactly how this works and the implications for the rising incidence of non-communicable diseases, such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes, depression, allergies and auto-immune disorders, is the subject of international investigation.