Recent discoveries by Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation scientists have redefined how the gut microbiome – a group of microorganisms located in the gut – operates and how our bodies coexist with some of the 100 trillion bacteria that make up the group.
Appearing in the journal Science, a peer-reviewed magazine published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the findings could lead to new therapies for inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBS) and people who have had portions of their bowels removed due to conditions like colon cancer and ulcerative colitis, OMRF said in a news release. The discoveries also help explain why antibiotics can cause problems in the digestive system.
OMRF’s Lijun Xia led a team of scientists who found that the microbiome controls the creation of a sticky layer of sugar-enriched mucus that encapsulates and travels with fecal material. The mucus acts as a barrier between fecal bacteria and thousands of immune cells in the colon. Without the mucus, the entire system is thrown out of balance.
The gut microbiome’s overall health relies on the presence of mucus. And although mucus production can be interrupted, OMRF researchers showed that it can be restored.
The findings could open the door to alternatives to colonoscopies for monitoring conditions like inflammatory bowel disease, OMRF said.
The research was funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health as well as the Oklahoma Center for Adult Stem Cell Research, a program of the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust, and the Stephenson Cancer Center