Launceston associate professors studying gut microbiome in elderly Tasmanians

10 Jan 2018

Two Launceston scientists have joined forces to study gut bacteria in elderly Tasmanians.

University of Tasmania associate professors Dr Katie Flanagan and Dr Rajaraman Eri received a 2018 Clifford Craig Foundation grant of $7000 to get their pilot study off the ground.

“We want to map out what happens to the microbiome in an ageing population in Tasmania and then figure out how that links in with susceptibility to inflammation and potentially to other diseases,” Dr Flanagan said.

“This is the first step in that project and Raj and I joined together because I was already doing research into the elderly and I was already looking at the whole inflammation and how it’s regulated in older people.

“So we were already collecting stool samples to do this study and we thought this fits in very beautifully with what he does because it’s kind of similar, works trying to figure out microbiome and what it’s doing systemically.”

With those results, Dr Flanagan will look at the data that’s being generated in the lab from an immunological perspective.

“From one country to another, from one population to another with a different genetic background, we know that there are changes and we will then use the data to link in with the other study I’m doing where we’re characterising in very fine detail the immune system.

“Maybe further down the line, we’ll actually be able to manipulate the microbiome by giving it probiotics and prebiotics, so very simple things for people to be able to take, which can actually alter the immune status and improve and reduce susceptibility to inflammatory conditions.”

The microbiome is the hot topic in science around the globe at the moment.

“Humans are nothing but mobile bacteria, and recently, every major journal, including the top journals that study science and nature carry one article regarding this area, so it shows you how important this area is,” Dr Eri said.

“This is the first step in our studies, and the second is a very big ambitious plan to conduct clinical trials.”

Scientists around the world are looking at how the microbiome links in with a number of different medical conditions.

“Eventually there will come a time I think where we’ll be able to understand that better and then we’ll be able to intervene in a whole series of things,” Dr Flanagan said.

“Things like diabetes, maybe rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, but also psychiatric conditions, like anxiety and depression, may be amenable to manipulation of the gut microbiome and may actually improve health outcomes from doing that.”


Carly Dolan – The Examiner, Launceston