Foundation awards pair of grants in support of public health research

The Biocodex Microbiota Foundation recently awarded grants to two researchers — Dr. Rashim Singh from the University of Houston and Dr. Caminero Fernandez from McMaster University — to fund field research that examines how dietary interactions with gut microbiota play a role in colorectal cancer and inflammatory bowel disease. SCINQ discussed the awards with Lena Yoo, the Regulatory and Scientific Affairs Manager at Biocodex.

SCIENTIFIC INQUIRER: Can you tell us about the Biocodex Microbiota Foundation and the grant it just awarded? What are its objectives?

LENA YOO: After 60 years of innovating and leading developments in microbiota with our flagship product, Florastor, Biocodex wanted to give back to the public and healthcare professionals by advancing research and scientific knowledge about our understanding of the human microbiota. Thus Biocodex established the Biocodex Microbiota Foundation, which was launched last year in June 2017. The mission of the Foundation is to support microbiota research through annual academic research grants, both on a national and international level.

SI: Why is the study of microbiota so significant?

LY: Recent research has shown that there are important connections between human health and the microbiota, and it’s important to continue to uncover the details of these connections through more research. These connections are not just limited to your gut and digestion – there’s research showing the wide impact human microbiota has on health. For example, the microbiota can impact mood, brain functions and even mental disorders via the gut-brain connection. That’s why the Foundation is excited to support microbiota research, and even more excited to award our inaugural grants in the USA and Canada to Dr. Singh and Dr. Caminero Fernandez, respectively. This is why we will continue to give grants annually – to support young investigators in their careers and to give back to the scientific community and general public with these grants.

SI: How was the grant award judged? What were the judges looking for in a proposal?

LY: The grant recipients were independently selected by the American and Canadian Biocodex Microbiota Foundation’s scientific board, who looked for innovative and promising research proposals by young investigators.

SI: Can you tell us about the winners, Dr. Rashim Singh and Dr. Alberto Caminero Fernandez, and the proposals they submitted? Why is their fields of research significant?

LY: Dr. Alberto Caminero Fernandez is a post-doctoral fellow in his last year at McMaster University, and he is studying the role of commensal microbiota on dietary tryptophan metabolism. This is important because tryptophan is present in many foods and is metabolized by gut bacteria to produce molecules that interact with a receptor called aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR). Some of these interactions can have positive outcomes on our health. The defective production of these molecules due to microbiota could result in loss of those health benefits or protection. Thus, Dr. Caminero Fernandez plans to isolate and characterize microbes involved in tryptophan metabolism from patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and from healthy controls, with his long-term goal to develop combinations of bacteria that act on tryptophan dietary sources to prevent and treat IBD. The CDC estimates that 1-1.3 million Americans struggle with IBD with no cure currently available, so the prospect of utilizing the microbiota to help people who suffer from IBD is truly exciting.

Dr. Rashim Singh is a post-doctoral fellow at University of Houston. Her study will investigate the role of gut microbiota and its constitution in the increased risk of colorectal cancer (CRC). The results of her innovative study would be critical towards understanding the bidirectional flavonoid-microbiome interaction and its role in the prevention of CRC caused by the dietary carcinogens. Dr. Singh is excited, as are we, about this research as it will add to the building knowledge of xenobiotics and gut microbiota interactions, especially for drugs undergoing triple recycling. It is especially relevant to public health as CRC is the third most common cancer worldwide, according to the World Cancer Research Fund International.

SI: What is the relationship between private sector companies and their research with the public/academic sector? And how do grants like the one from the Biocodex Microbiota Foundation fit into that scheme?

LY: Private sector companies can lead their own research, or they can work together with the academic sector for research. There are many examples of both scenarios. But in the case of the Biocodex Microbiota Foundation, it is neither. Biocodex established the nonprofit organization, the Biocodex Microbiota Foundation, to positively impact the health and well-being of our society by supporting public health research through annual grants, with no commercial intent. Biocodex and the Biocodex Microbiota Foundation make a clear division between the private sector and the public sector by having independent scientific boards evaluate and select both the topic of research and the winning project.

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