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“Planet Earth for microorganisms”: the University Hospital Erlangen has a new department for the microbiome

“Planet Earth for microorganisms”: the University Hospital Erlangen has a new department for the microbiome

The microbiome is involved in almost all physiological processes and therefore also in almost all diseases. Therefore, a new department at the University Hospital Erlangen now deals with a wide range of microorganisms.

When you hear the microbiome, you often think of the gut first. But the microbiome includes much more than that — the sum of the microorganisms that colonize the surfaces of the human body. Whether the skin, lungs, digestive tract, mouth, throat, nose or reproductive tract: microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi can be found everywhere. If their composition is correct, people benefit from it. But what is the ideal microbiome? And what is the impact of trillions of invisible creatures on health and disease processes? This will be examined in the future by a new facility at the University Hospital Erlangen: the Microbiome Department headed by Prof. Dr. Stephen B Rossart.

Very useful

“Humans are like the planet Earth for countless microorganisms. They live in it and need it as their host,” explains Stéphane Rossart. On the other hand, even the smallest creatures are extremely beneficial to humans. They protect them from pathogens, support the immune system, and digest what they eat. It cannot digest it on its own, or produce important nutrients.

“The microbiome is involved in almost all physiological processes and therefore, in fact, in almost all diseases,” says Rossart. “Its effect has already been shown in many diseases – for example for inflammatory or degenerative diseases of the central nervous system such as multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease. We know that the gut-brain axis is present and that microbial substances, such as so-called metabolites, are produced in the gut to reduce inflammation. Play Microorganisms also play a critical role in cancer, allergies, autoimmune diseases, and infectious diseases like the flu or sepsis.” In short: Wherever inflammation occurs and where the immune system is called upon, the microbiome also plays a role.

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optimal balance

Microbiome research is still nascent. Thus, the interactions and optimal balance between microorganisms and host are just beginning to be understood. Rossart: “We have to assume a multifactorial process and take into account many different environmental influences—such as our industrially produced food, the materials in our living spaces, the composition of the air, the climate, the microorganisms we come into contact with, and so much more.” And then it remains. The question is how all of this interacts with our microbiome.” To date, little of the microbiome field has been used therapeutically.

An example of this is a fecal transplant: Here, a healthy donor’s stool is transferred into the intestine of another person who has C. difficile and can’t cure common medications. In this case, the healthy bacterial composition of the donor should contribute to the healing of the damaged intestine. Therefore, the aim of the new Erlangen department is to understand the microbiome and its optimal composition and to derive potential therapies for humans from this.

Stefan Rossart, who moved from the University Hospital Freiburg to Erlangen in January 2023, wants to build his new research department in collaboration and working closely with the fields of microbiology, virology, immunology, rheumatology, oncology research, gastroenterology and molecular neuroscience.