In a major push by President Obama’s administration to advance the understanding of the microbiome – the population of microorganisms that lives within and around the human body – and enable the protection and restoration of healthy microbiome function, MassGeneral Hospital for Children (MGHfC) is being recognized as a collaborative partner with Mead Johnson Nutrition (MJN) in the National Microbiome Initiative announced May 13 at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C. MGHfC and MJN have crafted a three-pronged initiative based on research, outreach and education to advance understanding of the pediatric microbiome.
“MGHfC and Mead Johnson enjoy a long history of collaboration on projects that focus on pediatric nutrition,” says Ronald E. Kleinman, MD, physician-in-chief of MGHfC and chief of Pediatrics at Partners HealthCare. “Moving this fruitful partnership into the explosive area of research into the microbiome will advance not only our knowledge about the communities of microorganisms that make up the pediatric intestine but also how their interactions with diet and other factors affect pediatric health.”
In addition to funds already devoted to this collaboration, MJN and MGHfC will invest an additional $285,000 to further their study of the microbiome development of infants and children. A statement released by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy notes that the MGHfC/MJN collaboration will “develop an innovative human cell-based system to better understand how specific dietary factors impact the gut microbiome, fund new educational opportunities at the graduate and post-doctoral level that focus on gut microbiome research, and host a gut microbiome-themed symposium at a major pediatric nutrition conference in 2016.”
“The goal of this collaborative effort with industry is to move the science of the pediatric microbiome to clinical applicability through the implementation of precision medicine and primary prevention,” says Alessio Fasano, MD, lead MGHfC researcher, chief of the Division of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition, and director of the Mucosal Immunology and Biology Research Center at MGHfC. “We will be looking at how nutrients influence microbiome composition in infants and children and how this relates to maintaining health.”
The human gut microbiome is made up of communities of symbiotic (neither beneficial nor harmful), commensal (“good”) and pathogenic (“bad”) bacteria and other organisms, including viruses and fungi. Such an extremely complex ecosystem requires a sophisticated interface to function effectively and maintain a healthy intestinal environment. The goal of the expanded collaboration by MJN and MGHfC is to focus on using nutrition to balance the microbiome as a preventive intervention to improve and maintain health.
According to Brian Berg, PhD, principal scientist at MJN, being at the forefront of pediatric microbiome research is essential to nourishing the world’s children for the best start in life. “Environmental factors such as nutrition, human touch, antibiotic use, and even household pets serve as the building blocks for a child’s microbial make-up,” he says.
Adds Fasano, “Exposure to these environmental factors can have a significant impact on gut bacteria composition. And the microbiome that is imprinted in a child’s first 1,000 days of life plays an important role in maintaining the balance between health and disease well beyond childhood.”
National Microbiome Initiative fact sheet - MGHfC/MJN program listed on page 9
MassGeneral Hospital for Children
With more than 300 physicians, 50 medical specialties, 15 surgical services and compassionate preventive and primary care, MassGeneral Hospital for Children (MGHfC) provides exceptional care for infants, children and adolescents. MCHfC patients have complete access to the resources of the world-renowned Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), including innovative research and treatments, along with opportunities to participate in ground-breaking clinical trials. As patients mature, they benefit from the smooth transition of care between pediatric and adult services at Massachusetts General Hospital. MGHfC treats more than 170,000 patients annually, including primary care and specialty care visits.
Susie Flaherty, firstname.lastname@example.org, 617-643-2225