The future’s intestinal flora receives a helping hand – University of Copenhagen

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17 March 2016

The future’s intestinal flora receives a helping hand

About a hundred thousand billion - 100.000.000.000.000 – bacteria live in our digestive system. The intestinal microbiome consists of both beneficial bacteria that ensure that the gut remains healthy and supports digestion, and potentially harmful bacteria that can cause diseases if the normal microbial balance is perturbed. The purpose of NxtGenProbio, which is a research consortium supported by Innovation Foundation Denmark, is to develop a method that will enable the identification of beneficial microbes for future use in therapy and functionalised foods.

For thousands of years, humans have exploited microorganisms e.g. for the processing of milk into cheese and yoghurt, and for the curation of meat. Using ancient principles beneficial microorganisms creates a unique environment that does not favour harmful bacteria that enable preservation. A similar battle between beneficial and harmful microorganisms takes place inside our gut where the balance between different types of microorganisms is essential for maintaining a healthy digestion. If this balanced is perturbed, indigenous bacteria can cause diarrhoea and serious problems with digestion. Moreover, recent reports strongly suggests that changes to the gut microflora is linked to the development of diseases such as cancer. It is consequently important to secure a balanced intestinal flora throughout life and identifying mechanisms whereby we can support this.

NxtGenProbio consists of researchers from Chr. Hansen A/S and University of Copenhagen, which have received support from the Innovation Foundation Denmark to develop a new method for identifying microorganisms, which will be able to support human health.

Miniature gut grown from intestinal stem cells in the lab.

- Using mini-guts from healthy humans we believe that we can develop methods that will enable us to monitor how microorganisms influence the human gut. These developments will subsequently be exploited by our industrial partner to identify new microorganisms with probiotic functions says Kim Jensen, associate professor at BRIC, Biotech research & Innovation Centre, University of Copenhagen.

The researchers will use miniature guts grown from intestinal stem cells isolated from the healthy individuals. Under optimised growth conditions these gut stem cells will recreate the architecture of the intestine. Using state of the art methodology the team will measure, how microorganisms interact with the intestinal cells. In this process they will take advantage of supercomputing in order to analyse the vast amount of data acquired.

The goal of the project is within three years to have developed a platform technology, which will enable them to examine thousands of microorganisms in samples from hundreds of people. This will provide the framework to discover new probiotics and in the long term to use these microorganisms as a better supplement for traditional medicine in the treatment of diseases.

Official project title: Next generation probiotic development using human mini-guts