May 5, 2017

IM Conference: How your microbiome – the bacteria inside you – impacts your health

By Sharon Rosen

We each have our own unique microbial habitat – or community of bacteria within and on our bodies, called the microbiome. Investigators in the rapidly growing field of microbiome research are beginning to understand why changes in our microbiome – either from disease or environmental factors – can cause illness. These discoveries are already making a big impact and could lead to better prevention, screening, diagnosis and treatment of disease.

This year’s Individualizing Medicine Conference will feature two distinguished experts in the human microbiome: Rob Knight, Ph.D., and David Relman, M.D. They will share their compelling research at the conference on Oct. 9-10 in Rochester, Minnesota. Mayo Clinic Center for Individualized Medicine is hosting the sixth annual conference with support from the Jackson Family Foundation.

Dr. Knight: Discovering how our microbes define our health and disease

Dr. Rob Knight

In his conference presentation, “The Human Microbiome,” Dr. Knight will share his groundbreaking research that links microbes to a range of health conditions, including obesity and inflammatory bowel disease. His research explores how the environment you live in might change your personal community of bacteria – which determines how you develop and fight illness.

In his book “Follow Your Gut: The Enormous Impact of Tiny Microbes” published in 2015, Dr. Knight discussed his research on how conditions like acne, allergies and obesity may be caused – and someday cured – by the microbes living inside us.

During his 2014 TED talk, Dr. Knight highlighted the often unrecognized roles that the bacterial community play within our bodies.

“The three pounds of microbes that you carry around with you might be more important than every single gene you carry around in your genome,” he said. He explained that the microbes in your body impact how you process medications. such as whether pain relievers will be toxic to your liver or how you will respond to medications that treat heart disease. He also discussed how your microbes influence the way you digest food, shape your immune system and may even be linked to the way you behave.

Dr. Knight is the founding Director of the Center for Microbiome Innovation, in the Jacobs School of Engineering with the School of Medicine and the Division of Biological Sciences as founding partners, and is a Professor in UC San Diego’s Departments of Pediatrics and Computer Science & Engineering.

He is working to expand microbiome research and is co-founder of the American Gut Project, an effort to map the unique microbiome of the United States population using open-access data mining tools and citizen-scientists to discover how lifestyle and diet affect our body’s bacterial community and our overall health.

In 2015, Dr. Knight received the Vilceck Prize in Creative Promise for the Life Sciences.

Dr. Rehlman: Exploring the microbiome through multiple lenses

Dr. David Relman

As a pioneer in microbiome research, Dr. Relman has focused on understanding the bacterial communities that naturally exist within our bodies and how they change over time. He is also exploring how our microbiome changes with infections or the medications we take and how our bodies recover from these changes.

In addition, he has developed new ways to identify previously-unrecognized microbial causes of disease. This work has led to better understanding of early stages of infections that impact all parts of the body, called systemic infections. He is currently examining the underlying mechanisms of dengue fever and cases of undiagnosed illness where the patient has a persistent fever.

Dr. Relman integrates the methods from many scientific disciplines in his research, exploring the community of bacteria inside us with multiple lenses. He and his team apply methods and theories from ecology, population biology, environmental microbiology, genomics and clinical medicine to explore the role of bacteria in the human body.

He will share this multidisciplinary perspective in his conference presentation, “An Ecological Approach to the Microbiome and Human Health.”

Dr. Relman is the Thomas C. and Joan M. Merigan Professor in the Departments of Medicine, and of Microbiology and Immunology at Stanford University, and Chief of Infectious Diseases at the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System in Palo Alto, California.

He has received many awards, including a NIH Pioneer Award in 2006 and a NIH Transformative Research Award in 2011. He was elected a member of the National Academy of Medicine in 2011.

Learn more about the role of the microbiome in health and disease

Attend 2017 Individualizing Medicine Conference

Join us to hear Dr. Relman, Dr. Knight and other world-renowned experts discuss the latest research in precision medicine and how it can be applied to improve treatments for many conditions at Individualizing Medicine 2017: Advancing Care Through Genomics.

The Mayo Clinic Center for Individualized Medicine, is hosting the sixth annual genomics conference, October 9–10, in Rochester, Minnesota.


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