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Malaghan visiting researcher: Professor Charles Mackay

29 March 2023

Professor Charles Mackay’s relationship with Malaghan scientists goes back decades and encompasses curiosity-filled friendships and research collaborations. He recently visited the institute to share his research into the connection between nutrition, the gut microbiome and health.

Based today at Monash University, Melbourne, Prof Mackay first met Professor Graham Le Gros when they were both researchers at Ciba-Geigy in Basel, Switzerland in the early 1990s. Since then, they have maintained a decades-long friendship fuelled by scientific curiosity and good-natured competition, factors that led to research collaborations over the years in immune health.

Prof Mackay’s work on fibre and the gut microbiome has been transformative in carving out novel advancements in nutrition. He attributes many of the diseases that develop alongside western lifestyles to the lack of fibre contained in our diets.

“We have the answers to western lifestyle diseases. Completely,” he says. “Everything from Alzheimer’s, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, inflammation, allergies and even certain cancers, they all link to the lack of activity in a receptor that activates through our consumption of fibre.”

Our bodies cannot naturally digest fibre by themselves. Instead, they recruit specific populations of bacteria in the gut to break down fibre into molecules called short chain fatty acids.

“These short chain fatty acids bind to receptors on our gut lining which activate several pathways leading to positive effects on various systems in our body including the immune system and nervous system.”

Prof Mackay understands the difficulty in maintaining a high fibre diet in a world that is rife with energy-dense, sugar-filled treats.

 “It’s not easy keeping up with daily dietary requirements, that’s why my lab have developed a specialised supplement that contains the recommended amount and type of fibre in the form a powder.”

Currently undergoing clinical trials, this fibre supplement contains specific compounds that have demonstrated benefits in the research Prof Mackay’s lab have been conducting. The Gasser Lab at the Malaghan Institute will be incorporating this supplement into their research programme on immune health and the microbiome.

“This area of research is in its infancy,” says Prof Mackay. There’s so much we don’t know. This is the most exciting area of research in the world right now.”