MyNewGut is a European gut microbiome research initiative launched in 2013 that brings together experts in a wide range of fields: ‘omics’ technologies, brain research, computational modelling, immunology, microbiology, physiology and nutrition. The endeavour includes both basic research and clinical trials, with the aim of producing high-quality data that can inform medical practice and public health initiatives around the world.
GMFH editors caught up with project coordinator Yolanda Sanz for an update on MyNewGut activities this past year. Sanz is a Professor of Research at the Institute of Agrochemistry and Food Technology (IATA) of the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC).
Can you tell us about the major developments in the MyNewGut project over the past year?
First of all, we have been optimizing the protocols and doing training activities to harmonize the methodology to be applied through the project. This will ensure the data is of a high quality and ensure the possibility [of integrating] all the multi-dimensional data together, to give meaning to the microbiome information that is the centre point of our project.
In this context we have standardized the procedures for human studies; also for animal studies, and have successfully passed through all the ethical committees.
This is very basic work, but it was very, very important to ensure that the results are going to be coherent and comparable. We are going to be able to construct a big database to integrate these data.
Another step we have taken is in relation to the human studies: intervention trials with macronutrients to try to understand the role of the microbiota and specific components in the metabolism of nutrients, and also how these roles and functions influence energy balance. For example, we have already finished the intervention trial to understand the host response to dietary proteins, fibre and fats.
With these results, we will understand better the role of specific bacteria, metabolic pathways and metabolites that could mediate the effects of the diet on energy balance and metabolic disease markers.
We have also initiated the epidemiological studies in infants, in children, and also in adults. We are going to investigate in these studies the role of lifestyle factors, epigenetic factors and the gut microbiome in the development and function of the metabolic, immune, and nervous systems and to try to establish the long-term impact on different health outcomes. We expect also that, in the case of the prospective studies we are doing where a population group is followed up in time, we will be able to identify microbiome-related features that can predict diet-related disorders such as obesity.
In the project, we have also selected some potential prebiotic and probiotic candidates. The companies involved in the project have started incorporating these new ingredients into different food matrices, and they are optimizing the technological production of these new products that, in the future, could be used for doing intervention trials in humans.
What are you hoping to achieve with the project in 2016?
The results of the intervention trials with different macronutrients will be finished, and not only the interventions, but also the analyses that are going to be done with these samples. I think we will start, from these studies, to understand better the role of these diet-microbe interactions in the regulation of energy balance, and finally, in metabolic health. That is one of the major goals of the project. From these results we expect to be able to design a rationale for more efficient dietary interventions to control and to prevent diet-related diseases related to obesity and other metabolic disorders.
We also expect to conduct pre-clinical trials with new prebiotic candidates, to select the best ones to be tested in the last phase of the project in humans, and we also hope that the production of some of the innovative food products (prototypes) will be completed by the end of next year.
I can also anticipate that we will have the results of the first intervention with a probiotic candidate in humans, because the study design has been recently approved by the ethical committee. This is an important achievement, because to go ahead with human trials is quite complex.
What are you keeping in mind as you continue to steer this ambitious project?
It’s very important that all these results are translated into societal benefits.
There is a still long way to go, but we are positive and optimistic since we have an excellent team to achieve our ambitious goals.