In recent years Next Generation Sequencing instrumentation has become much more accurate, efficient and affordable, enabling researchers to collect, sequence and analyse genomes with increasing ease. Consequently researchers are developing novel techniques for exploring the link between the human microbiome and disease, with the aim of utilising metagenomic analysis as a means to further the drug development process.
Metagenomic modelling of the human microbiome is an emerging area of research that will require global collaboration to collect the required volume of genetic data required for analysis. “Presently we only have a limited understanding of the relationship between microbiome flora, the human immune system and environmental factors,” notes Evolution Director Dr. Frank Rinaldi. “Metagenomics will greatly aid in this understanding, and scientists are hopeful that further research will result in therapeutic applications for a broad range of diseases.”
Dr. Rinaldi also notes that “the number of genes in our intestinal microbiome is 150 times greater than the number in the human genome. Despite this challenge the human microbiome represents one of the most exciting areas of research this decade, and will inevitably lead to the creation and proliferation of novel treatments for conditions that challenge in humanity in the 21st century. It will help to shine a light on the stark rise in autoimmune disorders that have occurred over the past 50 years, including type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, celiac disease and asthma. Collectively these disorders are at pandemic levels globally.”
Beyond autoimmune disorders, current literature supports an association between human obesity and an increased prevalence of mental health disorders such as depression, dementia, anxiety and adult learning deficiencies. Whilst direct causation has not been established, researchers seek to further elucidate the nature of this relationship with the subsequent aim of developing novel dietary or pharmacological options.
As methods for studying the human microbiome are refined, metagenomics researchers are progressing towards developing predictive models that will outline the composition and function of microbial communities. Dr. Elhanan Borenstein, a researcher at the University of Washington, has ambitious plans for the collected metagenomics data. “Ultimately, this will allow us to design microbiomes, to tailor specific microbiome interventions, and to test interventions intended to change the microbiome.”
Commercial entities such as QuantiHealth have also identified the opportunities presented by metagenomic analysis of the human microbiome. Considering the combination of CEO Zhao Bowen’s genomic expertise and the company’s status as an early mover within the metagenomics space, QuantiHealth have established themselves as the frontrunners in what will soon become a highly-competitive commercial space.
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