Report from International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics Annual Meeting 2017: Focus on Prebiotics

The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) held its annual meeting in Chicago at the end of June, 2017. This meeting featured the latest science in the probiotic and prebiotic fields, consistent with ISAPP’s mission to advance the science of probiotics and prebiotics. Topics of discussion ranged from “How to define useful biomarkers for health?” to an update on human evidence for the impact of probiotics and prebiotics on brain function. Prof. Todd Klaenhammer of North Carolina State University (USA) gave the keynote address—his last lecture before retirement—providing historical perspective on research exploring probiotic mechanisms of action.

One highlight from this meeting was the presentation of ISAPP’s updated prebiotic definition. Glenn Gibson, lead author on the latest consensus statement by ISAPP (published in June, 2017), presented on the definition and scope of prebiotics. (ISAPP’s first consensus statement was published in 2014 and was on the definition and scope of probiotics.)

Prof. Gibson, along with Prof. Marcel Roberfroid, coined the term ‘prebiotic’ in 1995. Since that time, advances in prebiotic research and human microbiome science led to the need to modernize the prebiotic definition. The panel agreed on the following definition of prebiotic: “a substrate that is selectively utilized by host microorganisms conferring a health benefit”.  This definition has an expanded scope, including oral and non-oral administration, health effects that are not limited to the gut, and the possibility of including under the scope of prebiotics substances beyond oligosaccharides. Prebiotics must also have a demonstrated health benefit.

Unlike the definition of probiotic, the prebiotic definition stipulates a mechanism of action. Prebiotics must be selectively utilized by host microbes. Therefore, in order for a substance to meet the prebiotic definition, a study on the target host must both document a change in heath markers or symptoms as well as a specific influence on the microbial population. Implications of these changes were discussed at the meeting.

Probiotics and prebiotics are increasingly of interest to health professionals, consumers, and companies around the world. The engaged community of well-known researchers and other experts who attended the 2017 ISAPP annual meeting play a key role in the continued advancement of the field. ISAPP’s 2018 annual meeting will be held in Singapore, June 5th and 6th. See here for more information.

Mary Ellen Sanders
Mary Ellen Sanders
Mary Ellen Sanders is a consultant in the area of probiotic microbiology, with special expertise on paths to scientific substantiation of probiotic product label claims. Dr. Sanders served as the founding president of the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) and is currently the organization’s Director of Scientific Affairs/ Executive Officer. This international, non-profit association of academic and industrial scientists is dedicated to advancing the science of probiotics and prebiotics ( Through numerous written, oral and video pieces, including a website,, she strives to provide objective, evidence-based information on probiotics for consumers and professionals. Key activities include: Panels to determine GRAS status of probiotic strains ; member of the American Gastroenterological Association Scientific Advisory Board for AGA Center for Gut Microbiome Research and Education ; World Gastroenterology Organisation Committee preparing practice guidelines for the use of probiotics and prebiotics for GI indications (2008, 2011, 2014) ; working group convened by the FAO/WHO that developed guidelines for probiotics (2002).