The Children of Masiphumelele Township

Gregor Reid PhD MBA FCAHS FRSC, Professor, Western University and Scientist, Lawson Health Research Institute, London, Canada

Just off the main road from Cape Town, South Africa to Simon’s Town, sits Masiphumelele township where challenges of poverty, malnutrition, HIV and the risk of violence face people every day.

It is also the location for the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation Youth Centre, a safe haven that provides adolescent-friendly sexual and reproductive health services alongside educational and recreational activities for youth living in Masiphumelele and surrounding areas.

To understand some of the dangers that children face, in 2017, about 270,000 people in South Africa were newly infected with HIV, adding to one of the highest HIV prevalence rates in the world. The Tutu Youth Centre aims at helping educate youth to reduce their risk of becoming another HIV statistic.

I was invited there by University of Cape Town Professor Jo-Ann Passmore, a woman not only recognized for her research but whose passion for helping others is reflected in her warm smile (4th from left in group photo). She asked if I would be interested in holding a workshop to illustrate to the youth how using sachets of probiotic bacteria could empower them. I jumped at the chance. On an afternoon break from the Keystone Symposium, thirty researchers joined me along with Jo-Ann and my wife Debbie, a teacher of children with learning disabilities.

After a tour of the areas where children learn on computers, play games in safety, or have personal discussions about sexual health, everyone filled the room with a stunning backdrop of the Nobel Laureate’s image. Having been privileged to meet the Archbishop when he was hosted by St. Joseph’s Healthcare Foundation in 2008, it was a nerve-tingling experience for me.

Giving a lecture on beneficial microbes is hard enough to peers sitting in the back of the room, but to do so with young South Africans was more somewhat daunting. However, it proved to be a lot of fun especially when we had to identify kids who were good leaders (the boys all pointed to a girl), who liked to make stuff and sell it to others (two boys stood out). By the end, we had picked the ‘staff’ of a new company.

The next step was for four groups to decide on the company’s name, what products they’d make from the probiotic sachets (the options were many including yoghurt, cereals, fruit juices, maize), what marketing tools they would use and who they would target to obtain a respectable income.

Interestingly, several of the conference participants seemed less engaged, as if they had never considered how microbiology research could affect real lives. In front of them were children facing huge challenges on a day-to-day basis. In one group, the kids were quiet until my wife brought out pens and paper, then they went to town designing products, names and labels. A lesson for me on how different people need different stimuli to become engaged. The faculty left early to beat the traffic back to Cape Town, so unfortunately, they did not hear the outcome of the children’s work.

When we re-assembled to present the results, I was impressed with what could be created in such a short time. My favourite was the Amazing Maize, a bottle shaped like a corn cob with the idea it would contain fermented maize. It emphasized the importance of marketing and for products to taste and look good to be purchased.

It has been over ten years since Archbishop Tutu applauded us for the Western Heads East project and thanked us for empowering women and youth and contributing to nutrition in Africa. Since then, thanks to the huge efforts of Western staff and students, and more recently IDRC funding and partnerships especially with Yoba-for-life, Heifer International and Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, over 260,000 people in east Africa are now consuming probiotic yoghurt every week. The children of the South African townships were maybe too young to join in this new wave of microenterprises, but at least now they have heard about it and the importance of fermented food and beneficial bacteria.

In the background of the workshop several wonderful women committed to start up a new production unit using the Yoba/Fiti sachets developed by Yoba-for-life. I left them some sachets for them to try out the process.

But it was me who left with the biggest lesson on how precious each life is, and how those of us with the knowledge, need to provide the means for others to use their own talents to fulfill the purposes of their lives.

No better way than to start with the children.

Humpty Dumpty and the Microbiome

Prof. Colin Hill, Microbiology Department and Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre, University College Cork, Ireland (@colinhillucc)

When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

Microbiome science is an evolving discipline, and new terminology is an important part of any developing field.  But precise language is important, especially in a multidisciplinary field with researchers from many diverse scientific backgrounds.  Language provides us a means of communicating with brevity and accuracy, but this is effective only if the reader is deriving the correct (intended) information from the author.

For example, is there a difference between ‘microbiome’, ‘microbiota’ and ‘microflora’?  Are the terms interchangeable, or would it be useful to have them mean related but distinctly different concepts?  I have heard people state that ‘microbiota’ refers to the microbial content of an environment, whereas ‘microbiome’ refers to the microbes AND their environment (the biome).  I have heard others suggest that ‘microbiome’ actually refers to the genetic content of a particular microbiota, in the same way that the genome is the genetic content of an organism.  Some definitions assert that the microbiome/microbiota/microflora only describes the microbial cells (bacteria, archaea and fungi) in a particular niche, while others include non-cellular microbes such as viruses and bacteriophage in their definition.  It has also been pointed out that ‘microflora’ is a misnomer, since technically the term ‘flora’ is reserved for the kingdom Plantae.

A few other examples.  Do we all know what is meant when someone uses the term ‘metagenomics’?  Also, people often refer to analysing the microbiome by 16S – but they are really only analysing the bacterial fraction of the microbiome, the ‘bacteriome’.  Of course ‘16S’ itself is not a valid term – it is 16S rRNA genes that are being analysed.  Would a clear distinction between microbiome, bacteriome, phageome, mycome, virome, archaeome and all the other ‘omes’ help or hinder our understanding of the subject under discussion?  Should most studies actually use the term ‘faecal bacteriome’ rather than ‘gut microbiome’, since it is almost always faeces that is under investigation, and usually only the bacterial component?

I am not going to call out any individuals for abuse of language, since I am pretty sure I could look at my own output and find lots of examples of poorly expressed concepts.  But does any of this matter or am I simply being pedantic? I think it does matter, since if terms are poorly defined it may lead to confusion on the part of the reader (or listener), whereas the authors (or speakers) may know exactly what they mean – neither more or less, as suggested by Humpty Dumpty.

ISAPP has convened consensus panels on the meaning of some very commonly used terms such as probiotic1 and prebiotic2, but there is a limit to this activity, and consensus panels cannot be convened for every new term.  Even with these consensus papers, we still have a plethora of additional terms surrounding beneficial microbes, including paraprobiotics (killed microbes), psychobiotics (originally defined as probiotics with a mental health benefit, but the definition has recently been expanded to any exogenous influence whose effect on the brain is bacterially-mediated3), synbiotics (probiotics and prebiotics administered simultaneously – a term for which ISAPP is convening another Consensus Panel in 2019), live biotherapeutics, etc, etc.  One site I saw referred to bacteriophage as a prebiotic, using the argument that they can influence a microbiome in a selective manner to achieve a beneficial outcome.  This is surely a good example of where the ISAPP definition could provide clarity since prebiotics have to be utilised in order to qualify for the term. Other terms we often use without an agreed consensus as to their meaning are ‘dysbiotic’ (when we could use disturbed, or different, or disrupted), ‘unculturable’ (when we usually mean ‘not yet cultured as far as I know but I haven’t really tried’), ‘hypothetical genes’ (when we actually mean ‘function unknown’), ‘stability’, ‘resilience’, etc.  It may be useful to have some kind of standardised microbiome dictionary, or an accepted glossary of terms.  This is not a new idea (so few of mine ever are), and Julian Marchesi and Jacques Ravel published a lovely short paper to this effect in 20154.  The World Microbiome Day website also has a very short Glossary5.

Obviously, words must be the servants of the author and should not restrict expression or limit our ideas, and in many instances context can make it abundantly clear what meaning is intended by the author.  But in general, a strict definition is not the enemy of understanding, but makes it easier for author and reader to share common ground.

Who should create and curate such a Microbiome Glossary?  Ideally it would be interactive, perhaps along the line of a wiki page, where people could provide their newly coined terms along with a strict definition and arrive at a consensus for commonly used terms.  Reviewers of journal papers and reviews could help, by challenging authors on what terms they use, and whether or not they are the appropriate ones.

Meanwhile, I have to go back to the lab to do some comprehensive metagenomics on the gut microbiome – by which I mean that a competent scientist who works with me is going to go into the lab and conduct a particular form of 16s rRNA gene analysis to profile the more abundant members of the bacteriome of a portion of a faecal sample which has been collected, stored and extracted according to our in-house protocols.  Obviously!

 

  1. Hill et al., 2014. Expert consensus document: The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) consensus statement on the scope and appropriate use of the term probiotic.  Nat. Rev. Gastroenterol. Hepatol. 11, 506.
  2. Gibson et al., 2017. Expert consensus document: The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) consensus statement on the definition and scope of prebiotics.  Nat. Rev. Gastroenterol. Hepatol. 14, 491.
  3. Sarkar et al., 2016. Psychobiotics and the Manipulation of Bacteria–Gut–Brain Signals.  Trends in Neurosciences 39, 763
  4. Marchesi JR and J. Ravel. 2015. The vocabulary of microbiome research: a proposal.  Microbiome 3, 31
  5. http://worldmicrobiomeday.com/glossary-of-microbiome-terms/
hospital_room

Late initiation of probiotic therapy for acute pediatric gastroenteritis may account for null results

Francisco Guarner, MD, PhD, University Hospital Vall d’Hebron, Barcelona, Spain; Michael Cabana, MD, MPH, University of California, San Francisco, CA, USA; and Mary Ellen Sanders, PhD, International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics, Centennial, CO, USA. 

Schnadower et al (1) and Freedman et al (2) conclude that probiotics given to children who presented to emergency departments with gastroenteritis are not effective; however, these new well-conducted trials used probiotics in children who were symptomatic much longer than when current recommendations suggest initiating therapy.  Both studies recruited children that were symptomatic for up to 72 hours or more at time of randomization. Half the cohort of Freedman (2) had diarrhea for 43 hours at randomization. In the study by Schnadower, (1) children were symptomatic at randomization for a median of 53 hours. It is not surprising that probiotic intervention at this late stage was not successful, since most children were close to spontaneous remission. Acute gastroenteritis in high-income countries is usually benign and after 48 hours typically remits spontaneously. These new studies should not change current recommendations (3,4,5) to use probiotics early after onset of pediatric gastroenteritis in conjunction with oral rehydration, consistent with previous beneficial trials.

 

  1. Schnadower D, Tarr PI, Casper TC, et al. Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG versus placebo for acute gastroenteritis in children. N Engl J Med. 2018; 379(21):2002-2014.
  2. Freedman SB, Williamson-Urquhart S, Farion KJ, et al. Multicenter trial of a combination probiotic for children with gastroenteritis. N Engl J Med. 2018;379(21):2015-2026.
  3. Allen SJ, Martinez EG, Gregorio GV, Dans LF. Probiotics for treating acute infectious diarrhoea. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2010 Nov 10;(11):CD003048.
  4. Szajewska H, Guarino A, Hojsak I, et al. Use of probiotics for management of acute gastroenteritis: a position paper by the ESPGHAN Working Group for Probiotics and Prebiotics. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2014;58(4):531-9.
  5. Lo Vecchio A, Dias JA, Berkley JA, et al. Comparison of recommendations in clinical practice guidelines for acute gastroenteritis in children. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2016;63(2):226-35.

 

Importance of understanding probiotic mechanisms of action

By Prof. Sarah Lebeer, Universiteit Antwerpen, Belgium

At present, we do not fully understand the mechanistic basis of many well established probiotic health benefits. This limits our ability to predict which probiotics are likely to be effective.

For instance, prevention of antibiotic-associated diarrhea and necrotizing enterocolitis are health benefits that are well substantiated by meta-analyses, which combine results on many probiotic strains. But what the effective strains have in common from a mechanistic perspective is not known. We cannot yet pinpoint one or a few molecules produced by these strains that might drive the clinical effects. This is likely due to interplay between both host and probiotic factors. These health conditions are complex pathologies and the probiotic strains are living micro-organisms likely working through multiple mechanisms and molecules.

This is in contrast to some more clearly defined situations. Lactose maldigestion results from a deficiency in the enzyme lactase, which is required for converting lactose to glucose and galactose in the small intestine. If lactose is not broken down, it reaches the colon and is fermented by the gut microbiota, leading to symptoms. Some probiotic bacteria (including those present in yoghurt) contain lactase, which can reduce the typical symptoms of lactose digestion.

Several colleagues and I published a recent paper (Kleerebezem et al. 2019) discussing the importance of understanding mechanisms of action. We argue that such knowledge will enable: “(i) selection of more effective probiotic strains; (ii) optimization of probiotic product manufacturing and quality assurance, (iii) improved design of probiotic formulation, and (iv) support of the design of effective clinical trials with the best chance of realizing benefits to human health.”

While knowledge of the mechanism of action is not necessary for translation to effective products, it provides important insights that can improve actions throughout the translational pipeline.

The strain-specificity of different mechanisms of action is another point that will be clarified by future mechanism-focused research. Different probiotic strains clearly express different mechanisms, but some mechanisms are also shared (Sanders et al. 2018). How different host- and probiotic-specific factors interact to achieve a clinically successful intervention remains to be unraveled.

I have IBS – should I have my microbiome tested?

By Prof.  Eamonn Quigley, MD. The Methodist Hospital and Weill Cornell School of Medicine, Houston

I am a gastroenterologist and specialize in what is referred to as “neurogastroenterology” – a rather grandiose term to refer to those problems that arise from disturbances in the muscles or nerves of the gut or in the communications between the brain and the gut.  Yes, the gut has its own nervous system – as elaborate as the spinal cord – which facilitates the two-way communication between the brain and gut.

The most common conditions that I deal with are termed functional gastrointestinal disorders (FGIDs) among which irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is the most frequent. I have cared for IBS sufferers and been involved in IBS research for decades. But while much progress has been made, IBS continues to be a frustrating problem for many sufferers. No, it will not kill you, but it sure can interfere with your quality of life. Dietary changes, attention to life-style issues (including stress) and some medications can help but they do not help all sufferers all of the time. It is no wonder, therefore, that sufferers look elsewhere for relief. Because, symptoms are commonly triggered by food, there are a host of websites and practitioners offering “food allergy” testing even though there is minimal evidence that food allergy (which is a real problem, causes quite different symptoms and can be fatal) has anything to do with IBS. Nevertheless, sufferers pay hundreds of dollars out of pocket to have these worthless tests performed.

Now as I sit in clinic I am confronted by a new phenomenon – “microbiome testing”. I cringe with despair when a patient hands me pages of results of their stool microbiome analysis. Has their hard-earned money been well spent? The simple answer is NO! Let me explain. First, our knowledge of the “normal” microbiome is still in evolution so we can’t yet define what is abnormal – unless it is grossly abnormal. Second, we have learned that many factors, including diet, medications and even bowel habit can influence the microbiome.  These factors more than your underlying IBS may determine your microbiome test results.  Third, while a variety of abnormalities have been described in the microbiome in IBS sufferers, they have not been consistent. Someday we may identify a microbiome signature that diagnoses IBS or some IBS subgroups – we, simply, are not there yet. Indeed, our group, together with researchers in Ireland and the UK, are currently involved in a large study looking at diet, microbiome and other markers in an attempt to unravel these relationships in IBS.

There have been a lot of exciting developments in microbiome research over the past few years. One that has caused a lot of excitement comes from research studies showing that the microbiome can communicate with the brain (the microbiome-gut-brain axis). It is not too great a leap of faith to imagine how such communications could disturb the flow of signals between and brain and the gut and result in symptoms that typify IBS. We also know that some antibiotics and probiotics can help IBS sufferers. Indeed, about 10% of IBS suffers can date the onset of their symptoms to an episode of gastroenteritis (so-called post-infection IBS). All of this makes it likely that the microbiome has a role in IBS; what we do not know is exactly how. Is the issue a change in the microbiome? Is it how we react to our microbiome? Is it the bacteria themselves or something that they produce? Could our microbiome pattern predict what treatments we will respond to? These are fascinating and important questions which are being actively studied. In the meantime, I feel that microbiome testing in IBS (unless conducted as part of a research study) is not helpful.

If you are interested in our research study please contact me at equigley@nullhoustonmethodist.org

 

Related Reading:

Microbiome analysis: hype or helpful?

A clinician’s guide to microbiome testing

Here’s the poop on getting your gut microbiome analyzed

 

probiotics calendar

Probiotics in the Year 2018

Prof. Daniel Merenstein MD, Georgetown University School of Medicine

Messages about probiotics seem to be everywhere. It is difficult for me to keep up with the emails, links, and stories I am sent by friends and colleagues. I am regularly asked my opinion about new studies. Null trials seem to really generate the most interest, with some people looking for limitations of the study and others generally over-extrapolating the null results, seemingly at times to generate the brashest headlines.

Today I want to take a step back and share how I see probiotics in 2018.

I just reviewed a 109-page NIH grant focused on a probiotic intervention for use in a resource poor area. Throughout the grant, the authors never once defined probiotics—presumably because the definition is so commonly known. They did define ‘prebiotics’ but they never felt the need to define probiotics. Imagine that: 2018, and probiotics no longer need to be defined lest the authors seem pedantic. This would not have been the case even five years ago.

Probiotics are backed by real science, they are here to stay, and they are impacting both how we practice medicine and how consumers care for their own health. These are real products with some robust outcomes supported by well-done, independent studies. That is worth emphasizing: there is level 1 evidence for certain products and indications. On the other hand, the use of many probiotics is not evidence-based and expectations about some are not realistic. In the real world, products do not work for every indication or study population. Effect sizes and effectiveness for most indications are often small. One of my true hesitations about fecal microbial transplantation* is how nearly every study has over 90% effectiveness. That gives me cause for concern.

Thus, when there is a null trial the skeptics shouldn’t over extrapolate and the probiotic devotees should not attack the authors. We can look to studies on other treatments as an example: In November of this year NEJM published an article that showed a new antibiotic did not work well for gonorrheal pharyngeal infections. What I didn’t see were any headlines stating, “Antibiotics don’t work for pharyngeal infections.” But headlines involving probiotics often make erroneously broad generalizations. There clearly are indications for which no probiotic has been or will be shown to work. Selling a probiotic for that indication is clearly unethical. But considering the robust evidence base we have for the indication of probiotics for gastroenteritis, it is inappropriate – after 2 null trials – for headlines to read, “Probiotics Do Not Ease Stomach Flu” or “Probiotics No Better Than Placebo for Gastroenteritis”.

This fall I spoke about probiotics at two conferences, the annual meetings of the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) and the annual meeting of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics  (FNCE). I had never spoken at either conference. With the help of a colleague, I gave two talks at AAFP; both were over-registered with all 600+ spots taken. At the FNCE, the talk was also over-registered with 350 in attendance. The level of interest in probiotics was astonishing.

What I learned from my talks is that as long as there are well-designed studies demonstrating benefits, professionals are open to probiotics and will use them correctly. Further, both the FNCE and AAFP audiences shared similar concerns: can you trust that probiotic product labels are truthful regarding contents, and are there any safety concerns? Good science and quality oversight need to continue to address these important concerns.

2018 was a great year for the advancement of probiotics in mainstream medicine. However, I think for physicians to fully embrace probiotics, the probiotic industry will better need to police itself and make sure the products they sell are what they say they are. Then they need to communicate this on the product label, using a valid quality seal (such as offered by USP), so physicians and consumers will be confident about what they are using. If the science continues to advance and we communicate about it responsibly, the use of probiotics will be used appropriately and more frequently – as they should be.

 

*For all my colleagues in the gastroenterology world who have fallen in love with fecal transplant for recurrent C. diff,  the totality of evidence as of this writing is:  187 total patients, 5 studies (2 enema, 2 colonoscopy and 1 via-nasoduodenal tube), and punchline, TWO studies were blinded. The one with the lowest rate of success was the only one that was placebo-controlled and blinded. The other blinded study was donor versus patients’ own stools. Stew on that and feel free to correct me.  

YOGURITO –the Argentinian social program with a special yogurt

Dra. María Pía Taranto, CERELA-CONICET, Argentina and Prof. Seppo Salminen PhD, University of Turku, Finland

It is widely accepted that technologies play a central role in the processes of social change. The Argentinian experience has documented that yogurt can be a promising tool for promoting social development.  The program is called “Scholar Yogurito, the social probiotic” and the probiotic product is called “Yogurito”. This social program began with the development of a probiotic food, in the form of yogurt. This yogurt contains the probiotic strain Lactobacillus rhamnosus CRL1505, whose functional and technological characteristics are widely documented by CERELA-CONICET researchers. These researchers conducted clinical studies that demonstrated that the consumption of this probiotic product improves natural defenses and prevents respiratory and intestinal infections, the infectious events of greatest relevance in childhood. The “Yogurito Social Program” benefits some 300,000 schoolchildren in the province of Tucumán and some 50,000 in other provinces and municipalities of Argentina. This social transfer project, implemented in 2008 in the province of Tucumán, is a paradigm of interaction between the scientific sector, the manufacturing sector and the state, to improve the quality of life of highly vulnerable populations.

The social and economic implications for such translational research are significant and especially pertinent for people living in poverty, with malnutrition and exposure to environmental toxins and infectious diseases including HIV and malaria. This example of probiotic applications illustrates the power of microbes to positively impact the lives of women, men, and children, right across the food value chain. The researchers are looking for grants that would enable them to compare outcomes of schools given Yogurito to schools with no participation in the program.

 

Additional reading:

Julio Villena, Susana Salva, Martha Núñez, Josefina Corzo, René Tolaba, Julio Faedda, Graciela Font and Susana Alvarez. Probiotics for Everyone! The Novel Immunobiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus CRL1505 and the Beginning of Social Probiotic Programs in Argentina. International Journal of Biotechnology for Wellness Industries, 2012, 1, 189-198.

Reid G, Kort R, Alvarez S, Bourdet-Sicard R, Benoit V, Cunningham M, Saulnier DM, van Hylckama Vlieg JET, Verstraelen H, Sybesma W. Expanding the reach of probiotics through social enterprises. Benef Microbes. 2018 Sep 18;9(5):707-715. doi: 10.3920/BM2018.0015.

 Senior Researcher Maria Pia Taranto and the Yogurito product

 

Maria Luz  Ovejero, a teacher at Primary School 252 Manuel Arroyo y Pinedo, explains probiotics to 4-6 year old children in Tucuman province in Argentina

Where does our food come from – why should we care?

Dr. Karen Scott, The Rowett Institute, University of Aberdeen,  Scotland

The food we eat feeds our microbes, gives us energy and nutrition, and keeps us healthy. The choices we make about our food clearly affects our health, but also has a huge effect on the world around us. We need to make more effort to choose correctly.

Sometimes it seems that everywhere we look, someone has an opinion on what we should be eating. Television is full of programmes telling us how and what to cook – suitable for a range of abilities. In supermarkets we are continually targeted with special offers and promotions, encouraging us to buy things we do not need, that are not on our shopping list. In magazines there are page long adverts, letting us know many reasons why our lives will be enriched if we purchase product Y, and perhaps even how we will be missing out if we do not. Even newspapers print articles telling us which foods are “super” this week, and will endow us with youthful skin, long life, and/or a svelte figure. Next week there will be another article with a new superfood, and one demoting last week’s superfood to the “standard” food, or even demonising it completely.

Yet even with all this focus on what we should be eating, do we really care about where our food comes from? Shouldn’t we really be more concerned with the provenance and sustainability of our food, rather than whether it is “super”?

Quinoa is a grain with a high nutrient content, high protein content (including all nine essential amino acids) and is also a source of some essential micronutrients and vitamins. By popular measures, a “superfood”. Quinoa is primarily grown in South America (Peru, Chile and Bolivia) where it is an important dietary staple. The increased demand and resultant export of quinoa has contributed considerably to the Peruvian economy. On the other hand, the cost increases associated with the increased worldwide demand means that the local Andean population now struggle to afford to include this healthy food in their own diets. Additionally the enlarged land area now used for quinoa production has reduced the amount of land available to grow alternative crops, and this reduced diversity has a negative impact on soil quality and on wildlife. Not so “super”.

Another healthy food-fad with a negative environmental impact is avocado. The current demand for avocados as part of the ‘green smoothie’ revolution has resulted in considerable deforestation in Mexico to make way for avocado plantations. Avocado trees also need a lot of water, which, given that they are frequently grown in climates with problems of drought, is clearly not sustainable.

The other factor is price – we are constantly persuaded that we should be looking for the best deal, getting those “2-for-1 offers”, or buying our food in the specific supermarket “saving you the most on your weekly shop”. The reality is that we spend a smaller % of our income on food today than we ever have – and this is not because we eat less, far from it. But if we think about it, it is not the large supermarket that loses money when it introduces offers. Buy one get one free offers on, for example fruit, usually mean that the farmer is only getting paid for one of every two oranges sold. Is this fair? If you ask a people doing their food shopping if they think that milk should cost more than water – most people would say “yes of course”. Yet at the milk counter in the supermarket they automatically reach for the “special offer”, cheapest product. Sometimes the farmer gets paid less for the milk he sells the supermarket than it costs to produce. Again if you asked people in the shop if they thought this was fair, they would no doubt say no, but they still reach for the “special offer”, cheapest product. This is already driving smaller dairy farmers out of business. Is this what we want? We as consumers, as well as the supermarkets, have to take responsibility.

Similarly with meat products and eggs. Most people, when asked about the best and most humane ways to look after animals on farms, prefer the low density, outside methods often depicted in children’s story books. Yet when we reach the meat counter in the supermarket we are more likely to reach for the cheaper product than the one from the farm which assures humane conditions, but which may cost twice as much. Such farming methods are more expensive to run, so the products have to cost more. We have to make more effort to include our instinctive morality when we are actually making purchases of food.

We have also become accustomed to being able to buy anything, at any time of year. If we want to buy fruit that is out-of-season in our own country, it will be in-season somewhere else and can be flown across the world for display in our local supermarket. When we ask people if they care about global warming – most will agree that it is a big problem, threatening the world. Yet they will buy specific fruits or vegetables that have been flown 1000s of miles, in aeroplanes contributing CO2 emissions, without a thought. Locally produced food, eaten in season, completely avoids this non-essential contribution to global warming.

Feeding our microbes is easy – they just eat our leftovers. But perhaps we also need to think about them. Food produced in intensively farmed conditions contains more pesticide and antibiotic residues than foods produced less intensively. Depending where we live, imported foods may have fewer controls on additives and production methods than those produced locally. Although specific studies have not been carried out to gauge the effect of such residues on our microbes, it is likely that there will be an effect. The healthy compounds in fruits develop best when they are allowed to ripen on the bush/tree and are not harvested unripe and then transported across the world. Our ancestors ate fresh foods in season and produced locally. People living in remote areas of the modern world without access to the diverse range of foods in a supermarket have a more diverse, healthy microbiota than those of us consuming “western diets”. Our microbes do not need, and potentially do not want, intensively produced foods.

Many of us are in the fortunate position of being able to afford to pay a bit more for our food, and thus to support it being produced in the way we would prefer if we stopped to think about it. This is why we DO have to stop to think and not automatically reach for the cheapest product on the shelf.  If we do not support farmers who are producing food in the most humane way, they will go out of business and we will be left with no choice but to buy mass-produced, often imported, food. Is this really what we want?

We have become so accustomed to paying less for our food, and looking for bargains, that we seem to care less about the quality and provenance than the price. Unless we change our outlook we will affect whole populations and environments forever. We need to stop the disconnect between our thoughts about what our foods should be, and what we actually buy, and we need to do it before it is too late.

International Dairy Summit 2018 in Daejeon in South Korea

By Prof. Seppo Salminen PhD, University of Turku, Finland

The International Dairy Federation (IDF) convenes annual meetings that bring together scientists and industry professionals to discuss issues foremost to the production of safe and nutritious dairy products globally. Since probiotics find a home in so many dairy foods worldwide, ISAPP and IDF have some overlapping interests.

ISAPP president, Prof. Seppo Salminen of University of Turku, spoke at IDF’s International Dairy Summit 2018 on the potential for fermented foods to fight diseases and improve nutrition. He emphasized that many fermented foods contain a diverse collection of live microorganisms, which likely support our gut microbiota, perhaps even promoting gut microbiota resilience. Further, he stated, “Fermented dairy products, especially yoghurt, which combines milk, microbial starter cultures and pre-digested nutrients for human use, can be considered for future food-based dietary guidelines or recommendations focusing on beneficial microbe intake for gastrointestinal and other health effects.”

Another speaker, Prof Bruno Pot, discussed the global situation with regard to health claims for fermented dairy products. He focused on the situation in the European Union, where the only allowed health claim for probiotics is the benefit from live bacteria (Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus) in yoghurt reducing symptoms of lactose maldigestion. He reported that yoghurt is becoming a mainstream food in Asia. Key growth drivers in Asia are the perceptions that yoghurt is a healthy product with its beneficial impact on the digestive and immune systems, and they offer a good source of protein and calcium. The symposium also explored ways to enrich food through product development and innovation, particularly to provide nourishment for vulnerable populations. The potential for new ingredients such as milk protein hydrolysate-calcium complexes as calcium sources in yoghurt production was recognized.

David Everett, Chair of IDF’s Standing Committee on Dairy Science and Technology, reported: “Holding the 6th edition of the Symposium on Fermented Milks in Asia is of tremendous value as the scientific research on fermented dairy and the interest in these products is growing in the region.”

Forthcoming changes in Lactobacillus taxonomy

Mary Ellen Sanders PhD, Executive Science Officer, ISAPP

I was privileged to be included in a small meeting of scientists, both academic and industry, who met last week in Verona to discuss changes in Lactobacillus taxonomy. The first objectives of the meeting were to clarify with industry the need for the proposed changes and to clarify the methodology that will be used. The second objectives were to discuss at large potential consequences and approaches to address them.

Changes to the Lactobacillus genus

Experts from the Taxonomic Subcommittee for Lactobacilli, Bifidobacteria and Related Organisms agreed that the genus Lactobacillus is too heterogeneous and dividing this genus into several genera is inevitable. The need for this taxonomic ‘correction’ has been known for a long time, but until recently, the methodologies needed to reliably group the current Lactobacillus species into new genera were not available. But earlier this year, a paper by Salvetti et al (2018) analyzed 269 Lactobacillus and related (e.g., Pediococcus, Leuconostoc, Fructobacillus, Oenococcus) species and showed that the Lactobacillus genus comprises 10 phylogroups (see box). Each of these phylogroups represents at least one new genus. These same 10 phylogroups were observed using three separate approaches [phylogenetic analysis of 16S ribosomal DNA sequences, whole genome sequence analysis, leading to the comparison of 72 shared housekeeping genes (the core genome), and the comparison of average amino acid identity and percentage of conserved proteins], providing strong evidence that these groupings are robust. Commercially important Lactobacillus probiotic strains span at least 7 of those newly defined phylogroups; food fermentation lactobacilli cover even more.

lactobacillus_info

Although these 10 phylogroups were identified by this study, the current genus Lactobacillus could ultimately be resolved into 10 or up to 23 genera, depending on the cut-off values used for the different approaches. If researchers choose to split the genus into fewer new genera, it increases the chance that taxonomic changes will be needed in the nearer future. If they split the genus into more genera, it increases the chance that nomenclature will remain stable.

The names of the new genera are not decided. New names must be published (or validated) in the International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology. The authors of the publication will propose the new genus names. All species will be retained and their species names will not change. To minimize disruption, researchers will try to propose new genera names that begin with the letter “L”. Because “Lactobacillus” is a masculine Latin noun, the new genus names must be masculine for the species names to be retained.

A silver lining

Critics of these changes may suppose that adhering to taxonomic convention is their only purpose. But a classification system that better reflects genetic relatedness of the species may reap other benefits. As evidence for clinical benefits accumulates (summarized in open access review “Probiotics for Human Use”, 2018) and investigations provide insight into probiotic mechanisms of action, a clearer image of mechanisms and functions associated with particular taxonomic groups may emerge. The concept of core, shared benefits that were not strain-specific but linked to higher taxonomic groupings was explored in two ISAPP publications [Hill et al. (2014) and more in depth in Sanders et al. (2018)]. Reconsideration of clinical evidence and its relationship to new genera might prove enlightening.

What can be done to minimize confusion?

The meeting attendees brainstormed potential complications that might result from changing genus names. Company representatives in general considered that internal changes could be managed, although resources would be required to update names on all different paperwork and labels associated with commercial products (for example, marketing materials, product information, certificates of analysis, labeling, import/export certificates). The 2002 WHO/FAO probiotic guidelines, as well as the 2017 CRN/IPA guidelines, indicate that the genus, species and strain designation should be included on product labels. Further, the name used should reflect current nomenclature. This requirement is reflected in some national regulations. Therefore, genus name changes will necessitate label changes.

Further, it was emphasized that a clear document should be prepared and endorsed by reputable organizations (EFSA, NIH, FDA, medical organizations, and others). The document should: (a) indicate the name changes, (b) provide a clear, concise statement of why the changes were needed, and (c) emphasize that only the names, not the strains, would be different. This could be leveraged by companies to communicate with all stakeholders. End-users of probiotic products would likely not be a significant communication challenge. Authorities involved with probiotic safety (FDA with GRAS and EFSA with QPS) likely will manage these changes, as they are science-based. More of a concern was communication with other regulators, both at the level of national agencies responsible for probiotic-specific regulations (including countries with positive lists of species that are acceptable as probiotics) as well as authorities involved in import/export of product. Some potential issue with intellectual property may be envisaged, especially in a transition period during which the new names are not routinely used yet.

The bottom line: Name will change but the strains will stay the same 

The current Lactobacillus genus will be split into at least 10, and perhaps as many as 23, genera. No species names will change, but many species – including commercially important ones – will have a different genus names, hopefully beginning with the letter “L”.  Because of the tremendous heterogeneity of the current Lactobacillus genus, Prof. Paul O’Toole concluded his presentation saying “the status quo is not an option.” Some disruptions can be expected from this massive change, but the probiotic field would benefit from embracing these changes and developing strategies to minimize any difficulties resulting from them.

 

Additional information:

The International Committee on Systematics of Prokaryotes (ICSP) and the International Code of Nomenclature of Bacteria are responsible for the naming of bacteria. The subcommittee of the ICSP responsible for naming lactobacilli is the Taxonomic Subcommittee for Lactobacilli, Bifidobacteria and Related Organisms.

The meeting was convened by the Lactic Acid Bacteria Industrial Platform and chaired by Esben Laulund of Chr Hansens, who also chairs IPA Europe. A full report of meeting conclusions is expected to be published in a scientific journal by the end of 2018. Abstracts and program will to be posted on the LABIP website in due time.

The taxonomic hierarchy for Lactobacillus currently is: Domain: Bacteria; Division/Phylum: Firmicutes; Class: Bacilli; Order Lactobacillales; Family: Lactobacillaceae; Genus: Lactobacillus. The lowest order of taxonomy is the subspecies; the strain designation has no official standing in nomenclature. There are currently over 230 recognized species of Lactobacillus, and approximately 10 new species are added each year.

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Probiotics and D-lactic acid acidosis in children

Prof. Hania Szajewska PhD, The Medical University of Warsaw, Department of Paediatrics, Poland and Prof. Seppo Salminen PhD, Faculty of Medicine, Functional Foods Forum, University of Turku, Finland

See related post ‘Brain Fogginess’ and D-Lactic Acidosis: Probiotics Are Not the Cause

In their recent study, Rao and colleagues1 incriminated probiotics in the induction of D-lactic acidosis (1). Many who benefit from probiotics could be frightened—on the basis of this report—into stopping them, with potentially negative impacts on their health (2). Some probiotic bacteria, including some specific components of the intestinal microbiota, may produce D-lactic acid. Indeed, if plasma D-lactic acid rises sufficiently, it is clinically relevant, causing D-lactic acidosis. D-lactic acidosis has mainly been observed in subjects with short bowel syndrome. However, some authorities have regulated the use of D-lactic acid producing bacteria in infant and weaning foods, but the reasoning for normal infant population has been debated. Even in adults, the safety of D-lactic acid producing bacteria has been challenged, but apart from short bowel patients no evidence on clinical problems has been reported (3).

For this reason, we conducted a review and examined whether D-lactic acid-producing bacteria, acidified infant formulas and fermented infant formulas were potential causes of paediatric D-lactic acidosis (4).

We identified five randomised controlled trials conducted between 2005-2017 with 544 healthy infants. Additionally, some case reports and experimental studies were considered. No clinically relevant adverse effects of D-lactic acid-producing probiotics or fermented infant formulas in healthy children were identified. The only known cases of paediatric D-lactic acidosis were observed in patients with short bowel syndrome (4). It is of importance that human milk also contains lactic acid bacteria and bifidobacteria, some of which may produce D-lactic acid. Some stress situations, such as exercise, may elevate human milk lactate concentrations.  Thus, breast milk D-lactate content needs to be analysed more carefully to compare with fermented infant formulas.

Taken together, our results suggest that neither the probiotics that were evaluated in the studies we reviewed nor fermented infant formulas cause D-lactic acidosis in healthy children.

 

  1. Rao, S. S. C., Rehman, A., Yu, S. & Andino, N. M. Brain fogginess, gas and bloating: a link between SIBO, probiotics and metabolic acidosis.  Transl. Gastroenterol.9, 162 (2018). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6006167/
  2. Sanders, M. E., Merenstein, D. & Merrifield, C. A. Probiotics for human use.  Bull.43, 212–225 (2018). https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/nbu.12334
  3. Quigley E.M.M, Pot B., Sanders M.E. ‘Brain fogginess’ and D-lactic acidosis: probiotics are not the cause. Transl. Gastroenterol.9, 187 (2018). https://www.nature.com/articles/s41424-018-0057-9
  4. Łukasik, J., Salminen S., Szajewska H. Rapid review shows that probioticsand fermented infant formulas do not cause D-lactic acidosis in healthy children. Acta Pediatrica 107, 1322-1326 (2018). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29603358

FDA/NIH Public Workshop on Science and Regulation of Live Microbiome-based Products: No Headway on Regulatory Issues

September 20, 2018

By Mary Ellen Sanders, PhD, Executive Science Officer, ISAPP

On September 16, 2018, the US Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research (CBER) and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) collaborated on the organization of a public workshop on “Science and Regulation of Live Microbiome-based Products Used to Prevent, Treat, or Cure Diseases in Humans”.  I was present at this meeting along with ISAPP vice-president, Prof. Daniel Merenstein MD, who lectured on the topic of probiotics and antibiotic-associated diarrhea.

Prof. Dan Merenstein speaking at CBER/NIAID conference

While regulatory issues are often discussed at other microbiome conferences, the fact that this meeting was organized by the FDA suggested it was a unique opportunity for some robust discussions and possible progress on regulatory issues involved with researching and translating microbiome-targeted products. The regulatory pathways to drug development seem clear enough, but regulatory issues for development of functional foods or supplements are less clear. Jeff Gordon and colleagues have previously pointed out regulatory hurdles to innovation of microbiota-directed foods for improving health and preventing disease (Greene et al. 2017), and at the 2015 ISAPP meeting, similar problems were discussed (Sanders et al. 2016).

The meeting turned out to be mostly about science. Some excellent lectures were given by top scientists in the field (see agenda below), but discussion about regulatory concerns was a minimal component of the day. Questions seeding the panel discussions focused on research gaps, not regulatory concerns: an unfortunate missed opportunity.

Bob Durkin, deputy director of the Office of Dietary Supplements (CFSAN), left after his session ended, suggesting he did not see his role as an important one in this discussion. One earlier question about regulatory perspectives on prebiotics led him to comment that the terms ‘probiotic’ and ‘prebiotic’ are not defined. From U.S. legal perspective he is correct, as there are no laws or FDA regulations that define these terms. But from a scientific perspective, such a statement is disappointing, as it shows the lack of recognition by U.S. regulators of the widely cited definitions developed by top researchers in these fields and published in 2014 and 2017, respectively.

Two issues not addressed at this meeting will require clarification from the FDA:

The first is how to oversee human research on foods or dietary supplements. CBER’s oversight of this research has meant most studies are required to be conducted under an Investigational New Drug (IND) application. From CBER’s perspective, these studies are drug studies. However, when there is no intent for research to lead to a commercial drug, the IND process is not relevant. Even if endpoints in the study are viewed as drug endpoints by CBER, there should be some mechanism for CFSAN to make a determination if a study fits legal functions of foods, including impacting the structure/function of the human body, reducing the risk of disease, or providing dietary support for management of a disease. When asked about this, Durkin’s reply was that CFSAN has no mechanism to oversee INDs. But the point was that without compromising study quality or study subject safety, it seems that FDA should be able to oversee legitimate food research without forcing it into the drug rubric. CBER acknowledged that research on structure/function endpoints is exempt from an IND according to 2013 guidance. But FDA’s interpretation of what constitutes a drug is so far-reaching that it is difficult to design a meaningful study that does not trigger drug status to them. For example, CBER views substances that are given to manage side effects of a drug, or symptoms of an illness, as a drug. Even if the goal of the research is to evaluate a probiotic’s impact on the structure of an antibiotic-perturbed microbiota, and even if the subjects are healthy, they consider this a drug study. With this logic, a saltine cracker eaten to alleviate nausea after taking a medication is a drug. Chicken soup consumed to help with nasal congestion is a drug. In practice, many Americans would benefit from a safe and effective dietary supplement which they can use to help manage gut disruptions. But in the current regulatory climate, such research cannot be conducted on a food or dietary supplement in the United States. There are clearly avenues of probiotic research that should be conducted under the drug research oversight process. But for other human research on probiotics, the IND process imposes research delays, added cost, and unneeded phase 1 studies, which are not needed to assure subject safety or research quality. Further, funders may choose to conduct research outside the United States to avoid this situation, which might explain the low rate of probiotic clinical trials in the United States (see figure).

The second issue focuses on actions by CBER that have stalled evidence-based use of available probiotic products. This issue was discussed by Prof. Merenstein in his talk. He pointed out that after the tragic incident that led to an infant’s death from a contaminated probiotic product (see here; and for a blog post on the topic, see here), CBER issued a warning (here) that stated that any probiotic use by healthcare providers should entail an IND. This effectively halted availability of probiotics in some hospital systems. For example, at Johns Hopkins Health-system Hospitals, the use of probiotics is now prohibited (see below). Patients are not allowed to bring their own probiotics into the hospital out of concern for the danger this poses to other patients and staff. This means that a child taking probiotics to maintain remission of ulcerative colitis cannot continue in the hospital; an infant with colic won’t be administered a probiotic; or a patient susceptible to Clostridium difficile infection cannot be given a probiotic. Available evidence on specific probiotic preparations indicates benefit can be achieved with probiotic use in all of these cases, and denying probiotics can be expected to cause more harm than benefit.

It might be an unfortunate accident of history that probiotics have been delivered in foods and supplements more than drugs. The concept initially evolved in food in the early 1900’s, with Metchnikoff’s observation that the consumption of live bacilli in fermented milk had value for health. Probiotics have persisted as foods through to the modern day, likely because of their safety. The hundreds of studies conducted globally, including in the U.S. until 10-15 years ago, were not conducted as drug studies, even though most would be perceived today as drug studies by CBER. This has not led to an epidemic of adverse effects among study subjects. True, serious adverse events have been reported, but the overall number needed to harm due to a properly administered probiotic is negligible.

According to its mission, the FDA is “…responsible for advancing the public health by helping to speed innovations that make medical products more effective, safer, and more affordable and by helping the public get the accurate, science-based information they need to use medical products and foods to maintain and improve their health.” Forcing human research on products such as yogurts containing probiotics to be conducted as drug research, when there is no intent to market a drug and when the substances are widely distributed commercially as GRAS substances, does not advance this mission. Further, CBER actions that discourage evidence-based use of available probiotics keeps effective and safe products out of the hands of those who can benefit.

A robust discussion on these issues was not part of the meeting earlier this week.  Researchers in the United States interested in developing probiotic drugs will find CBER’s approaches quite helpful. Yet researchers interested in the physiological effects of, or clinical use of, probiotic foods and supplements will continue to be caught in the drug mindset of CBER. CFSAN does not seem interested. But without CFSAN, human research on, and evidence-based usage of, probiotic foods and supplements will continue to decline (see figure), to the detriment of Americans.

Human clinical trials on “probiotic”
1992-September 20, 2018

 

 

 

ISAPP-initiated systematic review and meta-analysis shows the association of probiotic consumption with reduced antibiotic prescriptions

At the ISAPP meeting in Turku, Finland in 2016, scientists convened a working group led by Dan Merenstein of Georgetown University (USA) along with Irene Lenoir-Wijnkoop of University of Utrecht (the Netherlands) and Danone Research. In their discussions, the group identified a gap in the literature: a systematic review of randomized, controlled trials to determine how antibiotic prescriptions are associated with probiotic consumption for the prevention of common acute infections. The protocol was registered with PROSPERO (registration number CRD42016052694).

The analysis, authored by ten scientists, was recently published—and results showed that infants and children who received probiotics were at least 29% less likely to be prescribed antibiotics. Find the paper here in the European Journal of Public Health.

ISAPP scientists say probiotics deserve consideration as a public health intervention that may reduce the widespread over-prescription of antibiotics.

See the ISAPP press release here, and the Georgetown University press release here.

See here for media coverage of this paper:

http://www.microbiometimes.com/scientific-analysis-shows-probiotic-use-is-associated-with-fewer-antibiotic-/

https://www.pharmacytimes.com/resource-centers/vitamins-supplements/daily-probiotics-may-reduce-kids-need-for-antibiotics

https://www.news-medical.net/news/20180914/Probiotics-could-reduce-the-need-for-antibiotics.aspx

Role of citizen science in research on fermented foods

By Prof. Sarah Lebeer, Universiteit Antwerpen

Spontaneous vegetable fermentations, with their rich flavors and potential health benefits, are regaining popularity among chefs and the general public. Famous Michelin star chefs, such as Belgium’s Kobe Desramaults, have implemented fermented vegetables in their recipes and offer fermented vegetable juices as non-alcoholic alternatives to wine. Serendipity was surely at play when I made contact with Kobe and his team, and had the opportunity to explore the microbial life of many of his fermented food and beverages.

Thanks to this spontaneous collaboration, I became intrigued by fermented vegetables as a promising alternative to dairy probiotic matrices. They have several benefits:

  • they are lactose-free
  • they contain no milk allergens
  • they are naturally vitamin-, antioxidant- and fiber-rich
  • they are vegan, satisfying the growing dietary trend

 

Together with prof. L. De Vuyst – a fermented food specialist from the VUB University in Brussels – we attracted a talented PhD student Sander Wuyts to study Lactobacillus’ role in the spontaneous fermentation process of carrot juices. I admit that fermented carrot juice is not the tastiest beverage I ever drank, but the fermentation process turned out to be scientifically intriguing: it appeared to be a robust, man-made microbial ecosystem dominated by lactic acid bacteria. We now often use this fermentation process in my lab as a model to study various aspects of niche-adaptation and niche-flexibility of lactic acid bacteria (LAB). And if you mix carrot juice with another fresh vegetable juice, such as cucumber, you’ll be surprised by its interesting light acidic flavor!

But perhaps the most rewarding part about our fermented-vegetables project was that we managed to carry out a Citizen Science project with the Flemish name, Ferme Pekes. You could translate it as ‘Fantastic Carrots’ 😊. Forty citizens volunteered to set up their own carrot juice fermentations at home and delivered with great enthusiasm samples of different time points. The carrots originated from their own garden, the supermarket or organic stores. Our analysis indicated that origin or organic compared to conventional product did not impact the microbial community composition. But we also could show that the LABs – first Leuconostoc then Lactobacillus – out-competed the undesirable Enterobacteriaceae after 3 to 13 days of fermentation. Longer times were needed for carrots derived from winter storage.

Our analyses (phylogenetic placement and comparative genomics, which was recently published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology) also indicated that a high LAB diversity was achieved in the different spontaneous fermentations. This is of interest if you believe it is important to let our immune system come into contact with a large and naturally diverse dose of beneficial bacteria. This idea has been promoted through the years as the hygiene hypothesis or microbial deprivation theory and aligns perfectly with the surge of interest in the health benefits of naturally fermented foods. See the recent ISAPP blog from Prof. Colin Hill, who advocates for the idea of a recommended daily allowance of consumption of live microbes.  (See also a related ISAPP blog here.) Such guidelines should be taken with precaution: the fermentations must be done properly with regard to food safety (see ISAPP blog on Making Safe Fermented Foods at Home).

Citizen Science refers to projects where citizens are actively involved in scientific studies, although it has various definitions and descriptions. In our case, it allowed us to obtain a much larger and more diverse set of samples than we could have created in the lab. Furthermore, the opportunity to directly (on e.g. workshops for adults and kids or at delivery of their samples) or indirectly (as a response to articles in the popular press) communicate with citizens helped us greatly in identifying which other research questions might be of importance for the general public. This approach is increasingly implemented in the fermented food and microbiome field. There are examples of fantastic projects such as on sourdough from Rob Dunn, Benjamin Wolfe and colleagues, the Global FoodOmics initiative and the Flemish Gut Flora project, which will also be presented by Dr. Gwen Falony at our next ISAPP meeting in Antwerp. I am not aware of a Citizen Science project in the probiotic or prebiotic area, but it might be a good idea for a joint ISAPP initiative, for science communication, the creation of richer datasets, validation/confirmation of probiotic efficacy, inspiration for future research questions, for example.

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Recommended daily allowance (RDA) for microbes?

By Prof. Colin Hill, Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre, Food for Health Ireland, University College Cork

In this months’ issue of The Biochemist (August 2018) I explored the concept of whether or not there could be a health benefit to ingesting large numbers of safe microbes in our diet (see the open access article here).  This was an effort, though I should stress not a scientifically rigorous effort, to consider the long history of encounters between humans and ingested microbes.

This opinion piece was prompted by a series of open questions which have often puzzled me.  Why is so much of our immune system focussed on the gut?  Why not simply let the microbes and food constituents pass through and get digested without such strict surveillance?  Surely it would be more metabolically favourable to only react to those microbes that breach our epithelial barriers?  Why does our enteric nervous system devote so much of its resources to the gut?  Why is there a generally beneficial effect of many probiotics across so many health conditions?  Why is mother’s milk designed to promote the growth of microbes?

Could the solution to all of these questions be down to a very simple answer? Because the gut ‘expects and requires’ constant encounters with microbes for full functionality. Given that humans evolved into a microbial world, and that we have consumed a diet rich in microbes for most of our evolutionary history, it makes sense that our enteric systems would be designed to appropriately deal with microbes of all types, selecting out those which can cause damage and destroying them, accommodating those which will become part of our microbiomes and letting the rest pass through.  Surely we are monitoring and controlling our ‘microbial’ organ in the same way that our eukaryotic organs are monitored and controlled.

Could it be that the rise in autoimmune diseases could be, at least in part, due to an immune system primed to expect more microbes than it currently sees?  Should we recommend that a daily dose of safe microbes should be included in dietary guidelines – in the form of more safe raw foods, more fermented foods and more probiotics? It must be emphasized that some serious pathogens must be controlled or eliminated from food – not ALL live microbes are safe. But the goal can be to process only when needed for safety reasons, so foods can be a source of the safe microbes they harbour.

Lots of questions, and not many answers.  But I for one am taking account of this concept in my daily diet and am deliberately eating more microbes – I’ll let you know how it goes!

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Probiotics for oral health: start young

By Dr. Mary Ellen Sanders

Prof. Wim Teughels from the Department of Oral Health Sciences, Leuven University, spoke at the 2018 ISAPP meeting on the topic of probiotics and prebiotics for oral health. He embraced the opportunity to speak to this audience in part hoping he could convince researchers to consider incorporating oral health endpoints in their future clinical trials.

He did a spot-on lecture, which precisely summarized available evidence for probiotics and prevention of dental caries, management of periodontal disease and reduction of Streptococcus mutans in the oral cavity. This area of research is gaining traction (see here).

One study he discussed is particularly interesting by Stensson et al. 2014 tracked caries in children at 9 years of age. This single-blinded, placebo-controlled study administered L. reuteri ATCC 55730 to mothers during the last month before their baby’s birth and to the children through age one. The number of children receiving the L. reuteri probiotic without caries was significant higher (82%) than in the placebo group (58%).  Although there are studies available that show a larger impact, the interesting aspect of this study is that it tests a very early intervention in life that seems to have an effect up to 9 years later. It is an important paper because it opens up the notion of early interventions in life, during microbial ecology development. The main message here is you don’t need to wait until there are teeth to start working on dental health later in life. In fact, interventions for dental health can start during pregnancy and by this:

We do not know what would have happened if the probiotics were given during the whole 9 years of life. Dentists who are interested in prevention should be interested in such data.

Several meta-analyses have summarized data for dental caries and management of periodontal disease. These reviews are useful in that they summarize the totality of evidence. But combining data on different strains might not be justified, as different strains may utilize different mechanisms to achieve effects, and therefore should not be considered as the same intervention. See here, here, here and here.

In sum, there appears to be a growing body of evidence that probiotic administration may impact several indicators of oral health: dental caries, gingivitis and periodontitis. More research is needed to understand the impact of probiotic supplementation on the oral microbiota and if clinical benefits are mediated by microbiota changes. It’s also important to understand which strains will deliver the strongest benefits, although L. reuteri has several, positive studies, and the importance of dose and temporal factors with dosing.

live-dead-probiotics

Dead bacteria – despite potential for benefit – are NOT probiotics

This blog is a re-posting of a blog initially published on www.usprobiotics.org on July 5. By Dr. Mary Ellen Sanders

At the 2018 International Scientific Association of Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) meeting in Singapore, two renowned speakers reported unpublished research documenting the health benefits of dead bacteria.

Prof. Hill showed that an inactivated Lactobacillus strain reduced anxious behavior, reduced cortisol levels, and impacted the microbiome in a mouse model. Prof. Patrice Cani showed that heat-killed Akkermansia muciniphila were sufficient to ameliorate obesity and diabetes in mice. Both professors made the point that these microbial preparations were not probiotics.

Prof. Colin Hill is the lead author on the oft-cited and -downloaded (over 40,000 times) ISAPP consensus paper reaffirming the definition of probiotics, which emphasizes that probiotics must be alive when administered. This, of course, does not preclude health effects of dead bacteria. One just must remember that dead bacteria are NOT probiotics. Many different types of microbe-derived substances such as metabolites, cell wall fragments, enzymes, and neurochemicals, can have beneficial physiological effects. A 2016 review by de Almada et al. lists a couple dozen published studies of physiologically active dead bacteria.

Preserving the long-accepted definition of probiotics as ‘live microbes’ is important to the many stakeholders involved in the field. Consumers should be able to purchase a product labeled as ‘probiotic’ and know that it contains an effective level of live microbes. Regulators should know that a product without an adequate level of live microbes is fraudulent if called a probiotic. Scientists should be able to use the term and have reviewers and readers understand that they are referring to functions of live microbes. An agreed-upon definition enables us to be precise when discussing an issue. Saying that because dead bacteria have a health effect and they should be called ‘probiotics’ is like saying that because vitamin D has a health benefit, the term ‘vitamin A’ should include vitamin D.

What are implications of the fact that dead microbes may have health effects?

Stewards of the probiotic field can expect increased frustration with popular press writers. I’ll use a recent example to make this point. The June 2018 Cooking Light Magazine /Special Gut Health Issue included an article that lists sourdough bread as a top probiotic-containing fermented food. When the error about misusing the term ‘probiotic’ to describe a food that contained no live probiotic bacteria was pointed out to the editor by Jo Ann Hattner, MPH RD author of Gut Insight, Cooking Light chose to ignore advice from an expert and justify their mistake by using an irrelevant observation that both live and dead cells in probiotic products may generate beneficial biological responses. Apparently, the expertise she derived from a paper that described the “probiotic paradox” trumped the considered opinions of global expert scientists/researchers and the FAO/WHO, who agree that probiotics must be alive when administered. It’s quite a simple concept. It is true that some dead microbes may have some health benefit (although evidence of such an effect is much lower than that available from controlled human trials on actual probiotics), but they are NOT probiotics.

Confusion. Some audiences will be confused by the idea that probiotics that are killed can have health benefits. Inaccurate writers, such as the Cooking Light author above, will perpetuate this error. This is unfortunate, since the probiotic concept is a long-standing one, backed by much mechanistic and clinical evidence. Conflating probiotics with dead bacteria will lead to confusion over important aspects of an effective probiotic product.

Overages.  It is not uncommon for commercial products to be formulated with live microbes at time of manufacture that far exceed the number claimed on the label. This is to assure that the product meets label claim at the end of shelf life, as probiotics often die to some extent during storage. Sometimes this ‘overage’ can reach 10-fold more than the level guaranteed on the product, although more typically it’s 2- to 5-fold. If over the course of shelf life the viable count drops to label claim, then dead microbes may comprise as much as 90% of the microbes present. We don’t know if these dead bacteria – although no longer probiotics – have physiological benefits, as no studies have been conducted on this form of inactivated cells, but it’s an interesting possibility. When we study a probiotic product, perhaps that product needs to be characterized by both the level of live and dead microbes that are present. Means of inactivation, such as heat, pressure, irradiation, or sonication, may impact the physiological activity of the resulting dead cells.

Opportunity.  Keeping probiotics alive in commercial products is a challenge. Research such as Prof. Cani’s targets an expanded range of microbes – many isolated from the human GI tract – that cannot be easily grown and stabilized in commercial products. Further, these microbes lack the history of safe use that food-associated microbes have, and so administration of high numbers of these next-generation probiotics will require proof of safety. If these microbes can be killed and still deliver health benefits, the commercialization process could be simplified.

ISAPP may need to consider convening another consensus panel to address these newly emerging terms, such as postbiotic and paraprobiotic. Then we can all be on the same page when using these terms, which have important scientific, nutritional and clinical impact. Of course, even if ISAPP does this, authors may still choose to ignore it.

efficacyvseffectiveness

Efficacy and Effectiveness Studies

By Michael D. Cabana, MD, MPH

In the world of clinical trials, reproducibility (or consistency) of results across different clinical trials improves clinicians’ confidence in an intervention (Hill, 1965).  However, when reviewing the evidence for a probiotic or prebiotic supplement, the results are sometimes conflicting.  One study claims an intervention may work.  Another study claims that an intervention may not work. So how does the clinician deal with this situation?

To know how much confidence to place in any claim of benefit, clinicians need to consider the totality of the evidence and the quality of the studies. One tool is the systematic review process, which in an unbiased manner searches for all studies for a particular intervention, and when possible, combines results into a meta-analysis. The ‘summary’ of these data point to either an effect or no effect. The best way to combine data is using an individual patient-data meta-analysis (IPDMA). In addition, a clinician should determine whether the clinical trial is an effectiveness study or an efficacy study (Singal 2014).

 

Efficacy or Effectiveness?   

Efficacy studies ask, “does the intervention work in a defined (usually an “ideal”) setting?”  In general, the inclusion criteria for study participants will be very selective.  Patient adherence tends to be closely monitored. The clinicians conducting the trial may be specially trained in the intervention and its application. The intervention occurs in an ideal setting and the risk of other confounding interventions (e.g., unusual diets, concurrent treatments) will be limited.

On the other hand, effectiveness studies ask, “Does the intervention work in a real-world setting?”  The inclusion criteria for study participants tends to be less selective.  Patient adherence to the protocol is not necessarily strictly enforced. The clinicians conducting the trial tend to be representative of the typical physicians who would treat this condition.  The intervention occurs in a more ‘real-world’ setting where the presence of other confounding factors may be present.

For example, two relatively recent studies both examined the effect of a probiotic intervention, L. reuteri DSM 17938 for the treatment infant colic.  A study conducted by a team in Italy (Savino et al. 2010) noted that the intervention reduced colic symptoms; however, the study conducted by a team in Australia (Sung et al. 2014) showed no effect on colic.

Why the different results? In the Italian study, all the infants were breastfed.  In addition, the breastfeeding mothers limited their dairy intake.  The infants tended to be younger (mean age 4.4 weeks) and tended not to have other treatments for colic or gastrointestinal symptoms.  In contrast, the infants in the Australian study were breastfed or formula fed. The infants were older (median age 7.4 weeks) and were more likely to have been exposed to other treatment for gastrointestinal symptoms (such as histamine-2 blocker or proton pump inhibitors).  The infants were recruited from many different settings such as the emergency department.

Although both the Italian and the Australian study evaluated the same probiotic intervention for the same condition, the studies offer different information in terms of efficacy and effectiveness.  Describing a study as either an “efficacy” study or an “effectiveness” study is not always dichotomous.  Rather, these studies exist on a spectrum, from being more like an efficacy study versus more like an effectiveness study. In the example above, the Italian study had stricter criteria and fewer confounding factors.  As a result, it would tend to be classified as an efficacy study.  The Australian study enrolled infants with colic who were older and had a greater likelihood to be exposed to other interventions.  This study would tend to be classified as more of an effectiveness study.  The fact that the Australian study was a null study does not mean that the intervention was not effective in the ‘real world’.  Rather, for the patients enrolled, the treatment was not effective when used in that particular setting and context.  Perhaps you may encounter infants with colic who have feeding history and medical history more like the infants from the Italian study. Understanding the context of the studies helps identify those characteristics that may or may not apply to the infants with colic who you may treat in your clinic.

 

Which is better: Efficacy or Effectiveness?

When developing a new or experimental intervention, an efficacy study might be important to increase the likelihood of detecting a positive change.  However, “real world” factors may make a difference in how a product is used.  Perhaps an intervention might be inconvenient (due to multiple doses throughout the day) or unpalatable for the patient.  Perhaps the dosing regimen is complicated and the primary care providers don’t apply the correct dosing for patients. In these cases, an effectiveness study might be a better guide to how useful the intervention will be in clinical practice.

As a final note, it can be tempting to simply read the abstract of a clinical trial to assess the results of a study.  However, in many instances the crucial details of the study (e.g., how the study participants were selected, who was included or excluded, what type of clinical setting was used) are buried in the methods section of the study.  Patient diet, exposure to other treatments and comorbid conditions are all common confounding factors encountered in trials evaluating supplements.  When reading through the literature and understanding if a study is applicable to your practice, be sure to understand the full context and purpose of the study.  “Was this study useful for determining clinical efficacy or clinical effectiveness?” is an important question for readers of probiotic and prebiotic clinical trials. Keeping this question in mind may help you better resolve what may appear to be inconsistency among clinical trials.

clinician_guides

Guides for use of probiotics in the clinic – some recent ISAPP initiatives

By Mary Ellen Sanders, PhD

At the ISAPP meeting earlier this month, Prof. Dan Merenstein, MD, presented a summary of recent ISAPP initiatives focused on helping translate the evidence of probiotics and prebiotics into clinical action.

A 2013 paper reported that 87% of hospital formularies surveyed in the United States carried at least one probiotic. Yet when Merenstein looked at the names of the products tested, many were not supported by evidence for such uses. This highlights the need for clinicians to have access to clear, evidence-based probiotic use guidelines.

ISAPP has worked through a variety of avenues to get information into the hands of clinicians. It has supported continuing education credit activities, webinars, collaboration with clinical organizations to develop guidelines, publications in clinical journals, presentations at clinical meetings, and simplified summaries using infographics and videos. Some examples include the following.

 

World Gastroenterology Organisation Global Guidelines – Probiotics and Prebiotics

This document is the most visited and downloaded of all WGO guidelines. In 2017, under the leadership of Prof. Francisco Guarner, MD PhD, this document was updated. Three current ISAPP board members were part of the process and ISAPP provided funding. See here.

 

Petitions

ISAPP petitioned the United States Preventive Services Task Force to examine the role of probiotics in preventing antibiotic-associated diarrhea. They considered the petition, but didn’t feel it fit their mission.

ISAPP petitioned American Academy of Family Physicians to consider reviewing the evidence for probiotics for AAD to include in their evidence-based guidelines. This is under consideration.

After attending 2017 ISAPP, Dr. Claire Merrifield BSc MBBS PhD led an effort to have NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries mention probiotics for AAD in an effort to get local groups to adopt guidelines. This has met with limited success. See here.

 

CME or CE activities

On April 17, 2018, Merenstein and Mary Ellen Sanders PhD served as faculty for a CME-eligible webinar sponsored by Medscape on “Navigating the World of Probiotics. Helping Patients Make Good Choices”. The activity is available on Medscape’s website here.

In February 2018, Merenstein published a CE activity with the Pharmacy Times titled “The Expanding Health Benefits of Prebiotics and Probiotics”. See here

Upcoming in October 2018, Merenstein will present “Probiotics and the GI Tract. What Should a Busy Clinician Know” at the American Academy of Family Physicians Annual Conference. This conference is attended by over 4,000 physicians and is focused on clinical practice. The event, eligible for CME, will be recorded and made available after the live presentation.

ISAPP co-founder, Prof. Glenn Gibson has or will present 6 lectures over 2017 and 2018 on the topic of “The Learning Curve for Probiotics and Prebiotics.” These lectures are available for CME credit and are targeted to family doctors, gastroenterologists, pediatricians, and dieticians in the UK.

Numerous CME presentations over 2017-2018 have been given by ISAPP board members:

M.D. Cabana:

  • “Probiotics: Friend or Folly?”  American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference and Exhibition. Chicago, IL. September 17, 2017.  The audience was about 450-500 clinicians.
  • “Probiotics in Primary Care Pediatrics: Diarrhea, Colic & Eczema.” American Academy of Pediatrics California Chapter 1 Meeting. 300 clinicians
  • “Probiotics for Colic?” Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital. Department of Pediatrics Grand Rounds. San Francisco, CA.
  • “Probiotic Interventions for Colic” UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital, Oakland.
  1. Reid:
  • “Effects and importance of microbiota on urogenital health in women.” 16th Annual Congress of Gynecology and Obstetrics, Antalya, Turkey. 300 obstetricians and gynecologists.
  • “Probiotics to whom for what?” Health World Ltd International Congress Natural Medicine 2017, Hunter Valley, New South Wales, Australia,.601 healthcare practitioners and naturopaths.
  • “The microbiome and how it relates to maternal/newborn care.” The Graham Chance Lectureship, Perinatal Research Day, London, ON. 100 neonatologists and pediatric experts.
  • “Microbes and the brain.” Integrative Healthcare Symposium, New York City. 500 naturopaths and various specialists.
  • “Probiotics and detoxification.” Environmental Health Symposium, Scottsdale, Arizona, 8th April. 500 naturopaths and various specialists.

 

Webinars

On June 28, ISAPP co-founder, Prof. Glenn Gibson, will present a webinar along with Profs. Ted Dinan and Ian Rowland titled “Why is everybody talking about gut microbiota?” Sponsored by the British Nutrition Foundation, this webinar will target healthcare professionals in the UK and Europe. See here.

 

Publications in clinical journals

Several ISAPP board members

  • Evidence-Based Probiotic Use in Family Medicine. Submitted, Journal of Family Practice. Merenstein/Sanders/Tancredi
  • Probiotics for Human Use. In press, Nutrition Bulletin. Sanders/Merenstein/Hutkins/Merrifield
  • Probiotics and prebiotics in intestinal health and disease: from biology to the clinic. Invited review in preparation, Nature Reviews Gastroenterology and Hepatology. Gibson/Reid/Sanders/Merenstein
  • Clinical perspectives of prebiotics and synbiotics. In preparation, Gastroenterology. Gibson/Quigley

 

Featured on ISAPPscience.org

Infographics

 

Videos

  • What is a probiotic?
  • Health benefits of probiotics
  • Are all probiotics the same?
  • How to choose a probiotic

 

General guidelines for choosing probiotics and prebiotics

Some initiatives that Merenstein championed were a direct result of ideas generated during the discussion group he led during the 2017 ISAPP meeting in Chicago.

 

Image courtesy of nursingschoolsnearme.com/

East meets West at ISAPP’s first meeting in Asia

By Mary Ellen Sanders, PhD

The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) recently convened its first meeting held in Asia, with the modern hub of Singapore as a host city. The meeting featured a two-day open registration meeting, attended by nearly 250 scientists, health professionals, and industry representatives, and a third day of smaller discussion groups by invitation. The meeting provided a rare opportunity for non-members to attend. It provided a dynamic forum for sharing different clinical experiences and regulatory nuances amongst the continents, as well as allowing attendees to better appreciate the research being performed in the Asian region.

Here are a few speaker highlights:

 

Mimi Tang MD

Tang presented the results of a double-blind, randomized controlled trial examining the effect of probiotic supplementation combined with oral immunotherapy (OIT) to decrease the risk of peanut allergy in children. Peanut allergy is one of the fastest growing food allergies in children. In the Probiotic and Peanut Oral ImmunoTherapy [PPOIT] study, children randomized to the intervention group had increased rates of sustained responsiveness to peanut several weeks after discontinuation of the treatment. Tang discussed the implications of the study, as well as current, larger clinical trials that are building upon these findings.

 

Dr. Bruno Pot

The Lactobacillus genus is taxonomically abnormally heterogeneous. Currently, the 231 Lactobacillus species range from a genome size of 1.23 – 4.91 megabases, have a GC content of 32-57% and an average nucleotide identity that is typical for a family or worse. Such ranges are far beyond what is acceptable for a bacterial genus. Experts are recommending that the current genus should be split into 12 new genera. Some well-known lactobacilli would be re-named, which may have important repercussions commercially and legally.

 

Profs. Colin Hill and Patrice Cani

Hill described how lactase in yogurt cultures improves lactose digestion; he emphasized how mechanisms that drive probiotic activity are complex. Some scientists are searching for a single molecule that drives probiotic health benefits—but it is unlikely to be found.

Hill noted even inactivated (non-living) microbes may have health effects—for example, a study showed that a dead Lactobacillus strain reduced anxious behavior, reduced cortisol levels, and impacted the microbiome in a mouse model. Work by Prof. Patrice Cani showed that heat-killed Akkermansia muciniphila were sufficient to ameliorate obesity and diabetes in mice. Does this suggest that we will need to start quantifying probiotics based on biomass as well as CFU?

 

Profs. Hani El-Nezami, Gregor Reid and Akihito Endo

These three speakers illustrated the important impact of environmental toxins (extremely potent aflatoxins, pesticides, and heavy metals) on humans and wildlife. They showed how certain probiotic strains can decrease aflatoxin absorption and even degrade them; sequester heavy metals and pesticides to reduce their uptake; and enhance resistance to honey bee colony collapse disorder that threatens the world’s food supply.

 

Prof. Wim Teughels

To date, 11 studies have been published on probiotics with a low ‘number needed to treat’ for prevention of dental caries in infants, toddlers, and adults. One study showed the benefits of administered L. reuteri, following children for nine years after they were treated as infants before any teeth had emerged. Also, data exist for probiotics influencing other oral health endpoints, including periodontal infections, oral candida infections, and halitosis.

 

The discussion groups on day three of the conference addressed a range of topics:

  • Possibilities to harmonize global probiotic and prebiotic regulations—Chaired by Seppo Salminen (Finland), Yuan Kun Lee (Singapore), and Gabriel Vinderola (Argentina)
  • Fermented foods for health: East meets West—Chaired by Bob Hutkins (USA), Paul Cotter (Ireland), and Liu Shao Quan (Singapore)
  • Potential value of probiotics and prebiotics to treat or prevent serious medical issues in developing countries—Chaired by Daniel Merenstein (USA), Reuben Wong (Singapore), and Colin Hill (Ireland)
  • Prebiotics as ingredients: How foods, fibres and delivery methods influence functionality—Chaired by Glenn Gibson (England) and Karen Scott (Scotland)

 

These workshops often produce peer-reviewed publications based on the discussion outcomes, so stay tuned for these developments. (See here for a list of ISAPP publications.)

The full meeting report is being developed and will be posted on the ISAPP website shortly.

The 2019 meeting will return to ISAPP’s normal format, hosted by Dr. Sarah Lebeer in Antwerp, Belgium.

 

bowling_1

ISAPP is coming to Asia – the hidden reason

By Prof. Glenn Gibson

In just a few days ISAPP will host its first meeting outside of Europe or North America, when we have an open conference in Singapore1,2. There are about 200 registrants and we cannot wait. The meetings are always scientifically informative but fun also. These are main drivers behind our annual jamboree, but this year there is another task…… I am hoping that first timers to ISAPP, and particularly our Asian friends, break with tradition and pronounce the name of the organisation correctly.

I have written one blog in the 56 years of my existence. This first was last year on the various social events we have at the meetings. But this was prior to Chicago in 2017, where we had a bowling alley experience. My PhD student Xueden Wang (Holly) has never let us forget her winning efforts at this:

bowling_1

The above picture and Holly’s endless bragging came to an abrupt end however, when we had our lab Christmas party in December3 – also at a bowling alley this time in Wokingham UK:

Let’s call that revenge of the supervisor shall we? The open top bus parade is now cancelled Holly I am afraid. By the way, if you don’t know what Chicago or Wokingham look like, then both are pictured below. I will leave you to guess which is which:

uk

Anyway, I disgress (justifiably). This is therefore my second blog, and there is a reason for dusting off the quill pen and rehearsing the hieroglyphics once more.

In the last few years ISAPP has published 2 consensus papers, one on probiotics and one on prebiotics4. What we cannot agree on, however, is how to say the name of our esteemed society. Some say ISAPP with the I as “eye”, while others say ISAPP (with the I as in sIt). Admittedly, there is a slight bias in numbers as it is possible to count on the fingers of one finger the number of people who use the latter. It is me. So, that makes about 852 attendees at previous ISAPP meetings incorrect.

Think of the full name of the ISAPP organisation and say it to yourself now…………………

Did anyone say Eye-Nternational? Or did you say International?

At this stage, I should just say that the case for the prosecution is concluded and no further witnesses your honour!

However, let’s look at things a little more closely. If the anarchists, heretics and Eye-Sappers get their way then we may need to change the logo of the organisation to:

eye ISAPP_logo

We see the letter “I” in front of many things these days such as i pad, i mac , i max, i alex cross, i pod, i robot. A quick search of the internet (or as some say eyeNternet) suggests that the “I” can stand for individual, imagination or internet, but usually refers to intelligent. We might have to live with ISAPP standing for intelligent sapps. Here is a picture of 2 saps:

 

Still, 852 people can’t be wrong. I’ll put that another way – 852 people are wrong. So the spotlight turns to Singapore to show us the light, the truth and the way forward.

But……. It gets worse. The terms probiotic and prebiotic are not used on products in Europe now as they are an implied health benefit. Let’s put aside that the very body who devised this “rule” have turned down all but about one health claim. If we go along with this puffed up lunacy5 then we might have to call ISAPP:

International Scientific Association for @%?!&.. and @%?!&..

Maybe we can get away with just using the first letters of these disgustingly offensive, abhorrent and abusive terms. So, ISAPP becomes:

International Scientific Association for P@%?!&.. and P@%?!&..

It still does not seem right, so ISAPP becomes:

International Scientific Association for PAP

Now we are getting somewhere, as PAP means Noun. 1. Nonsense, rubbish. 2. Faeces. Verb. To defaecate. e.g. ‘He was so scared he papped his pants.’.” This embodies exactly what ISAPP is all about and where pro/prebiotics work!!! So, I propose another new logo:

ISAPP_logo 

1I’ll be flying there with British Airways. One highlight is always the safety demo where they say “in the unlikely event that the plane should land on water.” I always feel that “unlikely” is not quite definitive enough. If you were to ask at check in about the chances of the 777 landing on water and the reply was “er… well…on balance it is unlikely”, you would probably not board the old crate.

2Travel tip: Always aim for row 13 and upon reaching it say “oh no, me and my luck, I’m in death row again”, it often leads to vacating of the seat next to you.

3Also attended by a group of leading food science researchers, who face such crucial issues as:

  • What is there in a chicken that makes an eggshell?
  • Why do we not eat turkey eggs?
  • Why is marmalade not just called orange jam?
  • How is some cheese orange when it made from milk?
  • Why are small chocolate bars called “fun size” when they are about half of what they should be?

4By the way, in the olden days (1995) I wanted to call prebiotics parabiotics. Only because MASH was on TV at the time and featured paramedics. So these could be known as biotics that help medics.

5Please note that these opinions are those of the author and do not represent the views of EYESAPP, aside from Gregor.

vinderola in vitro blog

The need to improve in vitro testing of future probiotics

By Prof. Gabriel Vinderola, Instituto de Lactología Industrial (INLAIN, UNL-CONICET), National University of Litoral, Argentina and Prof. Seppo Salminen, Functional Foods Forum, Faculty of Medicine, University of Turku, Finland

In a recent review we compared the in vitro tests for probiotics to the in vivo studies to observe if correlations exist.

Lactobacilli and bifidobacteria have been traditionally accepted as probiotics with the basis of their long history of safe use and reported benefits. However, new species, some of them never previously consumed, are being proposed as probiotic candidates. Some basic tests have been suggested for probiotic candidates, but there is a lack of standardized in vitro protocols for the selection of new strains of probiotics. Additionally, safety assessment of new species may have to cover aspects never hitherto considered.

Vinderola and coworkers reviewed the common in vitro selection tests such as exposure to low pH and bile salts, adherence to intestinal mucus or cell lines and prokaryotic-eukaryotic co-cultures that have been traditionally used to predict the functional properties of probiotics.  At the end, the correlation of in vitro results with in vivo performance remained ambiguous. This poses challenges to research as newly proposed probiotics include often novel species never hitherto administered to humans.

The question of safety has been handled by the European QPS system and the US GRAS notifications but questions on efficacy, particularly concerning health claims, would benefit from predictive in vitro tests. These appear to predict more technological properties than safety and efficacy or health benefits.

New standardized systems need to be developed along with detailed sequencing information to be able to predict novel probiotic properties before they are tested in expensive human intervention studies. If the predictive capacity of in vitro tests fails, many potential probiotics will be left on the way from the laboratory to the application in humans and animals.

The lack of standardized protocols for in vitro and in vivo studies hampers comparison of the potential of new species and strains. There is thus a need to conduct selection of potential probiotics in a more robust manner and to focus on well-defined in vitro and in vivo (animal) studies able to predict health benefits that must still be confirmed in human interventions studies with the smallest possible error margin.

For additional perspective on this issue, see blog by Dr. Mary Ellen Sanders: Probiotic Screening: Are in vitro Tests Informative?

 

 

Reference: Vinderola G, Gueimonde M, Gomez-Gallego C, Delfredico L, Salminen S. Correlation between in vitro and in vivo assays in selection of probiotics from traditional species of bacteria. Trends in Food Sci Tech 2017: 68:83-90.

science hard blog

Those who can’t do science, do science communication?

By Dr. Colin Hill

See what I did there?  I used a title which I hope will attract the attention (or wrath) of science communicators but then put a question mark which allows me to disagree with the hypothesis posed – a good science communication bit of ‘click-baiting’.

But now that I have hopefully got your attention, let me expand on my views of how science is communicated.  By way of disclosure, I am involved in a research centre, APC Microbiome Ireland, which has a mandate from Science Foundation Ireland for each scientist to actively participate in public engagement.  This is something I initially resented, on the premise that anything mandatory should be resisted, but I have begun to appreciate that it is an important obligation for active scientists to support science communication – hence this blog and sporadic attempts to tweet and engage with the outside world.  We are very lucky to have dedicated and talented science communicators in the APC, with an extraordinarily wide brief of engaging with schoolkids, students, clinicians, industry and the general public.  To argue against my provocative title, let me make it clear our APC communicators are highly qualified and talented scientists who could easily have ‘made it’ in scientific research in academia or industry, but chose to develop their skills in science communication.

My main issue is the widespread attempts to portray science as ‘fun’ to young people.  Most science communicators dealing with adults do a great job, albeit unfortunately the message is sometimes coloured by the need to make the story interesting by linking it to a headline proclaiming a ‘new cure for cancer’ or a ‘breakthrough on superbugs’.  But it is mainly the manner of communicating to younger people that worries me.  Scientists are largely perceived as nerds by the general public, and certainly by print and online media, even more so again by film and TV, but perhaps the most by scientists themselves.  Is this why we feel a need to persuade people that scientists are actually fun-loving and cool?  Perhaps the only sure way of not appearing cool is for adults to try to explain to a young person just how cool they are. Obviously, using the word ‘cool’ so often makes it abundantly clear that I am certainly NOT cool.  ‘Serious’ professions like medicine, law, or business do not try to persuade people that their careers are fun.  If you don’t believe me then try a simple exercise.  Do a Google Image search for ‘science’, and then for ‘law’ or ‘business’ or ‘medicine’.  As a hint, one set of images is dominated by cartoons, the other three are not.

I also cringe when I see science programmes on TV aimed at younger people, often with ‘zany’ presenters showing how science can be so much fun.  Let me quote from a 2015 Sunday Times TV review of an Irish science programme. ‘Silliness in the name of science was a recurring feature of [programme name omitted], a series that veered wildly between the youthfully exuberant and the childishly skittish….  Science TV (presenters) have been supplanted by giddy MCs who seem capable of speaking only in a cheerleading register’.  As a contrast, David Attenborough is the ultimate science presenter, never talking down to his audience, never dumbing down difficult ecological concepts, but retaining a genuine enthusiasm and deep knowledge of his subject.  He is never fun, but his message is clear and engaging.

Surely it is more important to communicate just how important science is to modern life and invite the next generation to join in, rather than to emphasise science as a fun career.  How could you get up every morning to a fun job?  You would go mad within a few weeks.  I have never found science to be fun.  I have found it to be challenging, frustrating, exciting, exacting, rewarding and infuriating in equal measures.  If you regard being the first person in human history to learn something new about our universe as ‘fun’, then so be it.  I would rather characterise it as a humbling and thrilling experience.  We should be clear in our messaging.  Scientists conceived and created the world we live in.  We (the computer scientists and physicists) made possible the smartphone or laptop upon which you are almost certainly reading this.  You may well only be alive because of medical interventions such as antibiotics provided by us (the chemists and biologists) and you can only be fed in such large numbers as a result of our efforts (animal and plant scientists, food scientists).  Why then do we feel a need to claim ‘science is fun’ in order to attract the brightest and best young people into science?

This blog is aimed both at science communicators and scientists alike.  We work in the most important career of all, in the only profession that can ensure a future for our race and our planet.  We have the most important roles in all of human activity – discovering and understanding our universe.  So let’s try again with a new message to attract the brightest and the best – “Science is hard, but that is exactly what makes it worth doing”.

hill blog industry

Academics working with industry  

by Dr. Colin Hill, APC Microbiome Ireland & School of Microbiology, University College Cork, Ireland

Many scientists have reservations about working with industry.  While characterising it as going over to the dark side might be an overstatement, there is a certain wariness that principles may have to be compromised (in terms of the ambition of the work and the freedom to follow your nose that is the supposed hallmark of ‘pure’ research), dull routine work may have to be performed, and publication in the best journals will be unlikely.  There may also be concerns that students or post-docs working on ‘industry’ projects may suffer from these constraints, which will restrict their career development.  There can also be a perception that the ‘best’ scientists work on fundamental problems, unfettered by the demands of industrial partners or short-term commercial goals.  Some of you reading this opening paragraph may be amused at the simplicity of this stereotyping  – “no one really thinks like that” – but I can assure you that some do, including a younger version of myself.

I have only really worked closely with industry in the last decade.  Before that, I wrote grants which assured potential funding agencies that what I wanted to investigate was incredibly relevant and important, would represent good value for the taxpayers’ investment, but was just a ‘little bit too early’ for industry to take on.  I genuinely believed this for the most part, although part of getting older is learning that fooling myself has always been a much easier task than fooling anyone else.  Nonetheless, I managed to forge a career in science.  I had a reasonable success rate of about one in four or five applications, which still seemed a poor return for the effort involved.  I would take my hard-earned funding and do my best to deliver on the promises I had made.  On occasion, the grants were successful, and we ended up filing a patent or developing a prototype or a process and essentially delivering on the promises made in the grant application.  But all too often I discovered that what we had achieved, or the problem we had solved, was not really the burning issue I had thought it to be, or at least could not be translated for the benefit of society without suitable industry partners.  In essence, we had self-tasked ourselves to solve a problem that no one really needed to be solved (or, at least not yet, or not in the precise manner we had solved it).

Of course, on occasion I was successful in getting truly ‘fundamental’ or ‘basic’ grants which were simply aimed at generating knowledge, and these were absolutely vital in developing new skills and opening up new research areas and possibilities.  However, over the past decade or more, I have begun to work closely with industry partners.  At first, this was driven by changes in funding policy in Ireland which linked scientific excellence to industry relevance – grants had to pass rigorous peer-reviewed scientific assessment, but also had to be validated by an industry partner willing to put skin in the game in the form of co-funding.  This necessitated finding industry partners and identifying a research problem together, before developing a solution.  I hope that now I have a perspective on both aspects of scientific research – often simplistically referred to as basic versus applied research – and I have good news.  Working with industry can be just as scientifically rewarding as not working with industry.

As I have experienced it, working with industry has several obvious advantages.

  1. Relevance. You know the research problem posed is one that genuinely needs solving, and the industrial partner for any solution you may develop is already engaged.
  2. Funding. Once you begin to work with an industry partner, the prospect of getting funding is much higher than in most competitive grant applications and the amount available may be defined by the extent of the problem, not the limit of a particular funding call.
  3. Intellectual capital. Most of the industry people you will be dealing with are also scientists, and they are just as clever, or far cleverer, than you (or me).  They will have defined goals but also have the same scientific curiosity which can be harnessed within the project.
  4. Flexibility. If you have embarked on the project and you find you have gone down a blind alley, it is usually possible to have a discussion with your partners and change the project design.  You don’t have to go back to the funders for permission to adjust the dreaded Gantt chart and ‘deliverables’, or have to justify to grant reviewers why you have gone off track. If a project extension is required you can often simply argue for it, no need to write a new grant and experience the inevitable downtime ‘between funding’.
  5. Urgency. Working with a student or a post-doc on a problem can be exciting, but sometimes a good or a bad result seems important only to the two of you.  It really adds urgency when an industry meeting is looming on the horizon, when you know the funders are directly invested in the outcomes of the experiments, and when the pressure really builds on the team.  In these moments some intense brainstorming and problem-solving can be required, which can create a real sense of excitement within the project and which can be a tremendous learning experience for junior members of the team.
  6. Career development. Most of the students and postdocs in the lab will not end up in academia, nor should they.  It is valuable training for young scientists to have a first-hand exposure to industry-based science so that they can make an informed choice on their next step in their career.

Are there negatives?  Well, honestly, not all industry sponsored research involves cutting edge science.  But if you are completely uninterested in the outcomes then don’t take it on.  What about bias?  Does industry funding create a bias towards positive outcomes?  I genuinely have not found this to be the case.  Reputable industry partners have no interest in biased results, since the company’s reputation is at stake and of course, no one is more invested in the scientific validity of their product than the industry partner.  And given that science is ultimately self-correcting no reputable scientist wants to be associated with misleading outcomes.  Individuals on either side can make mistakes or display bias, but that is no less true in the basic sciences.

The ideal academic-industry relationship recognises that there have to be rewards for both partners.  For both it is really important that the experiments be conducted to the highest possible standards with appropriate controls.  For the academic the right to publish the results in a timely fashion is particularly important when junior scientists are involved and a clear understanding of how results will be disseminated must be reached before the collaboration gets underway.  For the industry partner, it is important that the work stay focused on the agreed goals of the project and not veer off into the ‘nice to know’ rather than ‘need to know’ areas of the research problem.  As in most things, problems can be avoided by having a clear agreement on the goals, methods and publication strategy and having transparent reporting structures. Further, both sides must put effort into maintaining a good working relationship.

Finally, it is not a binary choice – working with industry obviously does not close off any other type of research you may want to perform.  You can still write grants and get funding from other sources.  In fact, I would propose that the ideal research mix requires an element of exploratory science to keep the laboratory fresh and industry-funded science to ensure relevance.  And when in doubt always defer to the great Louis Pasteur, who said “There are no such things as applied sciences, only applications of science”.

reid probiotics definition

You’d think we’d know probiotics by now

Prof. Gregor Reid, PhD MBA, Lawson Research Institute, University of Western Ontario, Canada

When I took my MBA, it was primarily to understand business and its relationship with science. I thought I learned quite a lot, but some things puzzle me to this day. Marketers know that messages are more effective when repeated. But, a guy called Thomas Smith (maybe related to Scotland’s famous Adam Smith who pioneered political economy, whatever that means!) wrote a guide in 1885 (yes that long ago!) called “Successful Advertising,” that noted:

The 1st time people see or read something, they don’t see it.
The 2nd time, they don’t notice it.
The 3rd time, they are aware that it is there.
The 4th time, they have a fleeting sense that they’ve seen it before.
The 5th time, they actually read the ad.
The 6th time, they thumb their nose at it.
The 7th time, they get a little irritated with it.
The 8th time, they think, “Here’s that confounded ad again.”
The 9th time, they wonder if they’re missing out on something.
The 10th time, they ask their friends or neighbors if they’ve tried it.
The 11th time, they wonder how the company is paying for all these ads.
The 12th time, they start to think that it must be a good product.
The 13th time, they start to feel the product has value.
The 14th time, they start to feel like they’ve wanted a product like this for a long time.

This goes on and on. It made me think about the definition and interpretation of probiotics. The version published in 2001 through two large respected organizations (WHO and UN FAO) has pretty much been universally accepted, and again reiterated in 2014 in a highly prestigious journal. That article is widely cited, so you’d think people would get it, right? They’d know what a probiotic is and what it’s not, right?

Yet, I speak at events around the world, and the same things keep coming back. Whether it is the 6th or 7th response (thumbing noses or being a little irritated) or a speaker confidently talking about probiotics and getting most of it completely wrong, I have scratched my head to the point my hair is falling out (a good research topic if someone would like to investigate this correlation). I even told a first year dentistry class of 55 students three times that the definition of probiotics would be an exam question. Only 8 got it correct!

I went back to the literature, as all scientists do, and asked the question “Why can’t people see what’s right in front of them?” It turns out either they believe you don’t have the answer, or you can’t have the answer, or you can’t have the answer right here and now, or they believe the answer needs to look like something else. This has a name – it’s called a schotoma – which seems appropriate, like people taking a shot at probiotics, or taking a shot at defining it, or providing their version of what it is.

With my hair now almost as thin as Glenn Gibson’s, I’m at a loss. Probiotics are not dead, not undefined/unstudied fermented foods, not in you unless you’ve taken them, not synonymous with “acidophilus”. They don’t typically colonize and they don’t have to be isolated from a human to work for humans. Products with lots of strains or a huge dose are not necessarily better products.

If you want to find the right probiotic for you, too often your doctor or health shop worker doesn’t give the best advice, because they haven’t read the articles. You should go www.usprobioticguide.com or www.probioticchart.ca and find something suitable for your needs. If you want some good general guidance, check out ISAPP infographics and ISAPP videos. If you are a company, don’t call your product a probiotic unless the contents have been tested in humans at the dose you are delivering at end of shelf-life. Call it strains of lactobacilli or something along those lines. Not being on one of these charts might be a sign that you’ve not done the needed work to call your product a probiotic.

But hey, maybe you need to read Thomas Smith’s guide. Probiotics are really quite simple. But, then again it’s only the hundredth time I’ve said that.

As for prebiotics, I’ll let someone else go bald on that one.