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Scope 63 - How our immune system and gut microbiome influence each other

7 August 2017

Earlier this year, The Malaghan Institute was excited to appoint Dr Olivier Gasser as our new Translational Immunology Group Leader. His group strives to uncover the complex ways in which our immune system and gut microbiome influence each other.

Microbes in our gut play a key role in keeping our body healthy. Many of the mechanisms are unclear, but it is often metabolites produced by the microbes that provide us with benefits. Dr Gasser focuses on the translocation of compounds from the gut to the bloodstream that act as natural adjuvants for immune responses to vaccines. If these responses are good, the immune system becomes better equipped to fight infections.

Other recent studies investigated the negative implications of the microbiome on health. One publication in Cell Host & Microbe linked age-related changes to the microbiome to increased gut permeability. This ‘leaky gut syndrome’ can result in systemic inflammation, a leading cause of premature death in the elderly. Dr Gasser has also seen this mechanism in his own research, but with varying outcomes. For instance, in patients with HIV, the virus also causes the gut lining to deteriorate, quickly exhausting the immune system from overstimulation. In a disease like cancer, however, chemotherapy increases gut permeability in order to induce a strong immune response.

These findings suggest that our gut microbiome can be both beneficial and detrimental to us under different circumstances. Dr Gasser highlights the importance of nutrition & microbiome research: “It is crucial that we understand the fine balance between a healthy microbiome and one that causes health problems if we want to find and improve therapies for many diseases.”

Differing findings like these show the importance of scientists across the world sharing and discussing new ideas. The body works as a whole, vastly complicated system. It is through collaboration that we will move towards a true understanding of its challenges.