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$2M federal grant to fund study of microbiome

Joel Wilmore, PhD, assistant professor in the department of Microbiology and Immunology, was awarded more than $2 million from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences to study the microbiome, and how systemic antibody responses are induced in response to commensal bacteria.

The microbiome is composed of complex communities of bacteria that dynamically interact with each other and with their host. Secretion of IgA antibodies helps maintain intestinal homeostasis and promotes healthy microbial communities that are associated with positive health outcomes in humans. The goal of Wilmore’s study is to define the bacterial properties and gene-level mechanisms that promote IgA production throughout the body.

“The cells that make IgA are typically found in your gut and other mucosal tissues, but we found that certain bacteria can induce IgA-secreting cells to go to your bone marrow and you get a more systemic response,” said Wilmore. “This grant is sort of the next step to try and understand what those bacteria are doing to uniquely induce a systemic response.”

If researchers can understand what triggers the immune response, it could potentially lead to the creation of probiotics, or more effective vaccines for a wide variety of diseases.

“This could be the first step to create less invasive vaccines.” he said. He explains that for some vaccines, like the one for salmonella which is an attenuated [live] vaccine, patients can experience side effects such as fever, headache, abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, and more.

“In theory we could take a bacterial species we all have normally in our guts, or even a bacteria found in yogurt and engineer that strain to have properties that induce systemic IgA, and express proteins from a pathogen of interest," he said.

The National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) supports basic research that increases understanding of biological processes and lays the foundation for advances in disease diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.​ More about the study is available here.