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ISAPP’s 2019 annual meeting in Antwerp, Belgium: Directions in probiotic & prebiotic innovation

Kristina Campbell, Microbiome science writer, Victoria, British Columbia

We live in a time when a simple Google search for ‘probiotics’ produces over 56.8 million hits; a time when almost everyone has heard of probiotics through one channel or another, and when an ever-increasing variety of probiotic and prebiotic products is available in different regions of the world.

The next five to ten years will be telling: will probiotics and prebiotics join the ranks of other trendy health products that experienced a wave of popularity before something else took their place? Or will they be recognized as important contributors to health through the lifespan, and establish a permanent position in the clinical armamentarium?

According to the global group of 175 academic and industry scientists who met for the ISAPP annual meeting in Antwerp (Belgium) May 14-16, 2019, one thing above all is necessary for the world to recognize the significance of probiotics and prebiotics for health: scientific innovation. Not only are technological capabilities advancing quickly, but also, new products are being evaluated by better-educated consumers who demand more transparency about the health benefits of their probiotics and prebiotics.

Participants in the ISAPP conference came together to talk about some of the leading innovations in the world of probiotics and prebiotics. Here are three of the broad themes that emerged:

Better health through the gut-brain axis

Gut-brain axis research is rapidly growing, with many investigators in search of probiotic and prebiotic substances capable of modulating brain function in meaningful ways. Phil Burnett of Oxford (UK) presented on “Prebiotics, brain function and stress: To what extent will prebiotics replace or complement drug therapy for mental health?”. Burnett approached the challenge by administering prebiotics to healthy adults and giving them a battery of psychological tests; in one experiment he found people who consumed a prebiotic (versus placebo) showed benefits that included reduced salivary cortisol and positively altered emotional bias. For those with diagnosed brain disorders, Burnett concludes from the available data that prebiotics have potential anxiolytic and pro-cognitive effects in these populations, and that prebiotics may eventually be used to complement the established treatments for some mental disorders.

Short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) are of interest as potential modulators of brain function, but so far very little research has been carried out in this area. Kristin Verbeke of Leuven (Belgium) gave a talk entitled “Short-chain fatty acids as mediators of human health”, which covered the extent to which interventions with fermentable carbohydrates can alter systemic SCFA concentrations (rather than gut SCFA concentrations)—since the former are more relevant to effects on the brain.

Also, a students and fellows feature talk by Caitlin Cowan of Cork (Ireland) explored a role for the microbiota in psychological effects of early stress. She spoke on the topic “A probiotic formulation reverses the effects of maternal separation on neural circuits underpinning fear expression and extinction in infant rats”.

A clear definition of synbiotics

Immediately before the main ISAPP meeting, a group of experts met to propose a consensus definition of ‘synbiotic’, with the objective of clarifying for stakeholders a scientifically valid approach for the use of the increasingly-popular term. A key point of discussion was whether the probiotic and prebiotic substances that make up a synbiotic are complementary or synergistic. And if the two substances have already been tested separately, must they be tested in combination to give evidence of their health effect? The group’s conclusions, which will undoubtedly steer the direction of future R&D programs, will be published in a forthcoming article in Nature Reviews Gastroenterology & Hepatology.

Probiotics and prebiotics for pediatric populations

Probiotics and prebiotics have been studied for their health benefits in pediatric populations for many years, but in this area scientists appear to have a renewed interest in exploring new solutions. Maria Carmen Collado of Valencia (Spain) covered “Probiotic use at conception and during gestation”, explaining some of the most promising directions for improving infant health through maternal consumption of probiotics.

In recent years, technical advancements have made possible the large-scale production of some human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs); it is now an option to administer them to infants. Evelyn Jantscher-Krenn of Graz (Austria) presented a novel perspective on HMOs, with “HMOs in pregnancy: Roles for maternal and infant health”, giving a broad overview of the many ways in which HMOs might signal health status and how they might be fine-tuned throughout a woman’s pregnancy.

A discussion group on “prebiotic applications in children”, chaired by Dr. Michael Cabana of San Francisco (USA) and Gigi Veereman of Brussels (Belgium), discussed evidence-based uses of prebiotics in children in three areas: (1) prevention of chronic disease; (2) treatment of disease; and (3) growth and development. While the latter category has the best support at present (specifically for bone development, calcium absorption, and stool softening), the other two areas may be ripe for more research and innovation. The chairs are preparing a review that covers the outcomes of this discussion group.

Next year in Banff

ISAPP’s next annual meeting is open to scientists from its member companies and will be held on June 2-4, 2020 in Banff, Canada.

 

Photo by http://benvandenbroecke.be/ Copyright, ISAPP 2019.

ISAPP Tests the Water with a New Session Format at Annual Meeting: The Springboard

By Mary Ellen Sanders PhD, Executive Science Officer, ISAPP

Along with more traditional lectures, the distinctive five-minute rapid-fire late breaking news session and the small, topical discussion groups have been staples of the annual ISAPP meetings. This year in Antwerp, ISAPP is trying yet another innovative approach – a session we are calling “The Springboard.” The witty Prof. Glenn Gibson will chair, sure to make the session entertaining as well as inspiring.

The Springboard is a session designed to integrate audience and facilitators’ viewpoints in an interactive format. The topic:  What can scientists and industry do to spring probiotics and prebiotics into mainstream health management? Four facilitators, each focused on a different perspective (industry, politics, medical/clinical or science/research), will present their visions. The audience, which will be divided into 10 subgroups, is challenged with the task of generating innovative ways to achieve the visions.

ISAPP plans to write up the most interesting solutions for publication. Watch for the output from this new session after the 2019 ISAPP annual meeting – May 14-16.

probiotics association of india

ISAPP Goes to India

By Mary Ellen Sanders PhD and Dan Merenstein MD

ISAPP sent two key-note speakers to the Probiotics Association of India meeting, held Feb 16-17 in New Delhi. Prof. Dan Merenstein MD spoke on “Evidence for clinical indications: how do probiotics measure up?” and Dr. Mary Ellen Sanders addressed “Is it time for live cultures to be included in official dietary recommendations?”  Dr. Merenstein also gave a second talk on an ISAPP-supported project:  the evidence that probiotic consumption can reduce antibiotic utilization. This is the 3rd PAi meeting that ISAPP has supported through speaker sponsorship.

The meeting featured talks on synbiotics to prevent late-term sepsis (Pinaki Panigrahi), the impact of diet on the Indian gut microbiome (Yogesh Shouche), autism (Sheffali Gulati) and 10 selected student/young investigator presentations on diverse microbiota/probiotic studies. Because of the high quality student presentations, judges were unable to choose the best to award prizes. The solution: all 10 presentations were awarded 5000 INR, supported by Prof. Pinaki Panigrahi’s Center for Global Health and Development. A poster session and original probiotic-themed drawings (see below for one submission) were also presented.

Dr. Sanders also spoke on “The contribution of probiotics to health” in an event held February 15 sponsored by the Gut Microbiota and Probiotic Science Foundation (India). This event was attended by ~150 professionals in nutrition, medicine and microbiota/probiotic research.

Of course, the trip was not all work. Below, Mary Ellen takes a selfie with her new elephant friend, Sampa.

probiotic poster

Probiotics and Good Gut Health. An artistic interpretation by a student, Simranjeet Singh.

elephant india

Mary Ellen Sanders takes selfie with Sampa, a 62-year old Asian elephant.

ISAPP RELEASES NEW INFOGRAPHIC: “PROBIOTICS: DISPELLING MYTHS”

How often do you hear information about probiotics that is just plain wrong? Too often write-ups on probiotics in blogs, websites, articles written by the lay press, and even sometimes in scientific journals is not true to the science. The latest ISAPP infographic corrects several common misconceptions about probiotic dose, sweetened probiotic yogurts, fermented foods, and more. In doing so, this infographic furthers ISAPP’s core values of stewardship, advancing the science and education.

This resource was developed by ISAPP’s Science Translation Committee and approved by  the ISAPP board of directors.

fermented foods

Fermented foods, health and ISAPP

November 30, 2017. By Mary Ellen Sanders PhD, Executive Science Officer, ISAPP

It seems that fermented foods have arrived. Just within the community of ISAPP board members, fermented foods and their importance to health have been a topic of great interest.  The idea that adding foods containing live microbes may be sound dietary advice has been reflected in many venues and formats, as seen here:

  • Bob Hutkins:
    • Presented “Health benefits of fermented dairy foods: microbiota and beyond” at 5th YINI Summit (Danone Institute) Fermented Foods and Health: The Intersection of Gut Microbiota and Fermentation Microbes on October 18, 2017.
    • Will convene a discussion group at ISAPP 2018 in Singapore “Taking advantage of fermented foods for health.”
    • Submitted a paper on counts of live microbes in fermented foods “A survey of live microorganisms in fermented foods”
    • Along with lead author Maria Marco and others summarized a discussion group on fermented foods convened at the 2016 meeting of ISAPP in Turku, reflected in this popular Current Opijnions in Biotechnology article, Health Benefits of fermented foods: microbiota and beyond.
  • Gregor Reid:
  • Mary Ellen Sanders
  • Seppo Salminen:
  • ISAPP board of directors
    • In 2015, published several comments to the US Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, presenting the scientific rational for fermented foods to be part of the US dietary guidelines. See here and here (and for a comment on prebiotic inclusion in dietary guidelines, see here)
    • Oversaw the ISAPP Science Translation committee, which published a consumer-friendly infographic and related materials on Fermented Foods.

ISAPP will continue to work to get this topic recognized by nutrition professionals globally.

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ISAPP Releases Series of Informational Videos on Probiotics and Health

October 10, 2017. Probiotics are a hot topic—an online search for information yields millions of hits. But how much of this easily-accessible information is scientifically accurate?

The clinicians and scientists serving on the ISAPP Board of Directors constantly receive questions about what’s true when it comes to probiotics and prebiotics. That’s why ISAPP decided to commission a series of four informational videos on probiotics. These videos were overseen by members of our board of directors without input from industry, but industry provided educational grants for their production.

The four new videos focus on these topics:

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

Watch for the videos to roll out during the month of October 2017! They’ll appear here on the ISAPP website video page.

With our mission to advance scientific excellence in probiotics and prebiotics, ISAPP is committed to helping consumers access science-based information on probiotics and prebiotics. To stay up to date on ISAPP news, please sign up for our monthly newsletter!

brain-gut relationship illustration

Bugs on the Brain: the Microbiota-Gut-Brain Axis

September 2017. By Eamonn M. M. Quigley, Chief Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Houston Methodist Hospital and Professor of Medicine, Weill Cornell Medical College, Houston, Texas, USA.

We can all remember those instances of diarrhea (or at least frequent bowel movements) and “butterflies” that we suffered before a critical test, interview or presentation. These are examples of stress originating from the brain influencing gut function. Extensive research over the past several decades has revealed that this is a two-way street – the gut constantly signals to the brain, too. This bidirectional channel of communication between the “big brain” in the cranium and the “little brain” (i.e. the enteric nervous system) in the gut came to be referred to as the gut-brain axis. This link relies on neurons of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, as well as circulating hormones and other neuromodulatory molecules.

We now understand that mental symptoms of stress, anxiety or depression have a clinical impact on the gut. These include situations where the brain, the gut and their channel of communication, the autonomic nervous system, are affected by the same pathologic process. Parkinson’s disease is a prime example. Indeed, a hypothesis has evolved to suggest that Parkinson’s disease actually originates in the gut and ascends to the brain. Other scenarios include those instances where neurologic symptoms are a consequence of a primarily gastrointestinal pathology. This occurs in malabsorption syndromes when nutrients such as folic acid and B12, which are critical to brain function, become deficient. Finally, and most commonly, are those situations such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) where it is widely believed that symptoms result from dysfunction or disturbance somewhere along the gut-brain axis. In some individuals the problem may lie primarily in the gut; in others the main issues may be a distorted representation of gut stimuli in the brain.

Recently the concept of the gut-brain axis has been extended to include the microbiota (the microbiota-gut-brain axis) and tantalizing evidence suggests that bacteria resident in the gut could have an impact on the “big brain”. Indeed, some researchers have raced ahead to suggest that assessing alterations in the microbiome could assist in the diagnosis of a host of neurological disorders and that therapies targeted at the microbiome could play a central role in disorders as diverse as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, autism, stroke, depression and drug addiction.

We should remember that the microbiota-gut-brain axis is far from a novel concept as it was clearly described over 60 years ago with research on hepatic coma. Metabolic products of gut bacteria lead to this much feared complication of advanced liver disease and an intervention targeted at the microbiome, namely, the administration of antibiotics, was shown to be dramatically effective. In these pioneering studies the role of bacterial overgrowth in the small bowel by coliforms and other bacteria, which are normally confined to the colon, was found to be important. Subsequently, these same bacteria and the inflammatory response that they evoke have been incriminated in the pathophysiology of another common consequence of chronic liver disease, portal hypertension, as well as in other complications such as spontaneous bacterial peritonitis, systemic sepsis and hemostatic failure. Indeed, there are several manifestations of this tripartite resonance between microbiota, the liver and the central nervous system. Gut health factors such as small bowel bacterial overgrowth, an abnormal microbiota, impaired gut barrier function, a pro-inflammatory state and the appearance in the systemic circulation of neuro-active molecules generated by bacterial metabolism are all postulated to play important roles in the actual pathogenesis of a number of common liver diseases. So what is new?

From the basic science laboratories and a variety of animal models a pretty coherent message has emerged. Firstly, the microbiome can influence brain development, structure and function and lead to changes in cognition and behavior. Secondly, the manipulation of the microbiome – for example, with probiotics – can ameliorate certain brain disorders and reverse impaired function. Thirdly, the inoculation of microbiota samples from individuals with a number of neuropsychiatric disorders into animal models can recapitulate features of the human disease. So far so good.

As always, extrapolation from animal studies to humans is fraught with difficulties: differences between animal and human brains and microbiota, the limitations of animal models of psychiatric and functional bowel disorders, and, above all, the challenges of studying brain function in humans. The good news is that these challenges are being addressed. Researchers are utilizing various technologies that provide dynamic images of brain function in various parts of the brain in response to a variety of situations, stimuli and exposures. These are now beginning to provide evidence that our microbiota can influence brain function and that the gut microbiota might, indeed, be a therapeutic target for patients with disorders such as depression, Parkinson’s disease and autism. Data are preliminary and certainly not at a stage where we can offer diagnostic testing based on a fecal sample or recommend antibiotics, prebiotics, probiotics or fecal microbiota transplantation for a given neuropsychiatric disease or disorder. But watch this space!