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Microbiome and Health

Rarely do organisms live in isolation and often they live with close relationships to others. These relationships can range from beneficial to pathogenic which are very common throughout the natural world. It has become clear that there is a huge community of microorganisms that live all over the human body made up of thousands of species, and the role of these small and invisible colonisers is essential for our health and survival. This community of organism is known as the microbiome. 

It is now understood that the microbiome plays a key role in our development from birth and maintaining homeostasis within the body. They aid in the digestion of food, provide vitamins and help in the absorption of nutrients. They produce chemicals essential for gut health with the education and regulation of our immune system, provide protective barriers against infection and produce anti-inflammatory compounds to fight pathogens and communicate via the gut brain axis. 

The microbiome changes with age, and environmental factors such as diet and disease. With research demonstrating changes associated with numerous diseases including cardiovascular disease, inflammatory bowel disease, sepsis, obesity, diabetes,s, anxiety and depression, bacterial vaginosis, and cancer to name just a few. As a result, you can see the importance of the Microbiome in our health and the wide implications of cost to heath care systems of this.   

In the CIRTM we aim to look at the associations of the host microbiome and its role in disease, not only identifying changes that occur but understating the biological reasons for these changes, their importance and implications for long term heath and recovery. This research includes the development and use of in vitro model systems to be able to study this including the development of Organ on a Chip technology.  Microbiome research within CIRTM covers a wide range of topics, with experts in the field of Women’s Health, cardiovascular diseases, stroke, animal pathogens, exposure to anthropogenic toxins in humans and animals, and links to microbial resistance. 

Development of Organ on a Chip technology to substitute animal testing  

The Organ on chip research that is being undertaken at Brunel is made up of a multi-interdisciplinary group of experts from Life Sciences and Engineering developing microfluidic devices to culture tissues in order to replicate organ like functions. The engineered tissues can be used in pre-clinical trials as a substitute for animal testing, replicating more closely the human physiopathology. The group’s main research focus is on women’s health and developing four main organ-on-a-chip (OOC) models: the breast, vagina, ovary, and placenta. At present most global research on tissue culture is 2D and as a result has its limitations how representative it is, as it does not truly represent the complex microenvironment of the tissue being investigated; the differentiation of cells that occur in tissue and the communication between different cell types within that tissue. In addition to mimicking this complex environment, Brunel’s OOC technology aims to incorporate the microbiome associated with these tissues to develop a more representative system, allowing a better understanding of diseases associated with these organs, and a mechanism to develop and test efficacy of treatments. 

For more information see the Organ on a Chip Research Group Website