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​​Microbiome workshop draws international audience

Published on: 23-Mar-2018

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Mechanisms underlying ageing and how to slow it have engaged mankind for thousands of years. This also includes Singapore, whose population of elderly is rapidly increasing. While the ageing process is inevitable for all living organisms, humans have the luxury to reflect and in part influence the process of ageing towards healthy ageing and improved quality of life. While it is well established that our genes play a role in the ageing process, less is known about our newly discovered friends, the indigenous organisms that reside within us which, influence the ageing process. Ongoing research suggests that interventions targeting the gut microbiome may be a new way to support healthy ageing and quality of life in the old age. 

LKCMedicine Professor of Metabolic Disorders Sven Pettersson and Visiting Professor Richard Reynolds, together with team members from Prof Pettersson’s lab, organised a two-day world-class workshop on microbiome, host physiology and ageing. This was a joint initiative by LKCMedicine and ARISE, working closely with the Canadian Institute of Advanced Research (CIFAR) and NUHS Centre for Healthy Ageing.

The meeting attracted 130 researchers, students and scientists from Sweden to Japan, with an intriguing mix of science flavours from the East and West to discuss pertinent topics such as the microbiome, the aging phenomenon and neurodegenerative diseases. The two days also touched upon multi-dimensional approaches and interventions to empower our golden years. 

Following a welcome address by the ARISE Director Professor Theng Yin Leng, the two-day workshop kickstarted with keynote speaker Professor Eran Elinav from Israel who shed light on the extensive and intimate interaction between humans and the trillions of microbes in our body. He pointed out that diet is the central reproducible factor that shapes our microbiome and metabolic health and discussed the different responses that individuals have to the same food. As there is no one-size-fit-all diet, personalised nutrition via per person profiling is essential, Prof Elinav concluded. This was further supported by Dr Hyejin Kim from Prof Pettersson’s lab, who showed that fatty liver disease caused by high fat diet and high fructose diet can be reversed with the positive effects of gut microbiota.

Dr Oliver Dreesen from A*STAR’s Institute of Medical Biology touched upon the genetic process of ageing through a presentation on the loss of Lamin B1 as a marker of senescence. 

While the phrase, “It is better to be rich than poor” might turn many heads and raise several eyebrows, Professor Dusko Ehrlich from King’s College London said it holds true for the microbiome. For having enhanced richness in our microbiome directly translates into a healthier person, while the lack of it can be related to mortality, he said.

Professor Jing-Dong Han from the Shanghai Institutes for Biological Sciences then explored the big data approach to tackle ageing. This systems problem blended into the wisdom of the East with Professor Atsushi Iriki from the Riken Brain Science Institute about marmosets and their use of social communication that is acquired from birth. He then delved into the wisdom accumulated and passed on via communication likening it to how the microbiome can contribute to happy ageing. He concluded saying “Youth are uneasy, elderly are peaceful.” 

Professor Thomas Bosch from the Zoological Institute at the University of Kiel, brought the audience on a journey of how evolution extends or shortens lifespan in a given the animal phylum. Using the Hydra as an example, he highlighted how they propagate asexually as their stem cells never fail to renew and regenerate and are hence, non-senescent. Searching for longevity genes, Prof Bosch discussed the roles of APOE and FOXO3A, identifying FOXO as a key regulator of epithelial homeostasis and host-microbiome crosstalk. He offered an evolutionary approach to view ageing from a holistic point of view, ranging from highly intimate interactions inside host tissues to those with microbes in the surrounding environment.

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On the second day, a handful of speakers discussed neurodegenerative diseases. LKCMedicine Professor of Neuroscience & Mental Health George Augustine provided the audience with an in-depth understanding of different diseases that are aggravated with age, such as the Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s diseases and how the microbiome can play a critical role in their regulation. These diseases and the potential interventions were discussed subsequently and became a central theme for the second day of the workshop.

The audience was privileged to get a deep insight on metabolomic profiling and neurodegenerative diseases by Professor Elaine Holmes from Imperial College London, who inspired them with the use of different mass spectrometry techniques to profile endogenous molecules as well as environmental components such as dietary metabolites and gut microbiomes. She suggested that the diet likely to be best suited for healthy ageing is the Omniheart diet, which reduces blood pressure and triglycerides and contains several essential metabolites: Guanidinoacetate, Phenylacetyle glutamine p-cresol sulfate and Phenylacetyle glutamaine p-cresol sulfate.

The workshop then propelled forward, focusing on the benefits of ageing and broke the taboo where ageing is viewed with pessimism. Dr Parag Kundu from Prof Pettersson’s lab showed the audience that our ‘old microbiome’ may indeed be a friend and not a foe, which evolves to support us as we age, with the example that old microbiome promotes neurogenesis in young recipients.

As the saying goes, all is well that ends well and the symposium’s final speaker was Professor Miia Kivipelto from the Karolinska Institute. She kept the audience hooked throughout her closing keynote speech as she shared results from the highly recognised FINGER study. The results reveal possible beneficial effects to attenuate cognitive decline through multi-domain lifestyle interventions. Her recommendation for Alzheimer’s disease prevention would be a treatment cocktail including neurotransmitter modulators, neuroprotection, dietary intervention/medical food, risk factor intervention, next generation targets, as well as amyloid and tau lowering molecules. Prof Kivipelto ended by providing insights into a future where one size does not fit all and outlined what approaches, in her opinion, are required, including tailored interventions for specific at-risk profiles, combining non-pharmacological and pharmacological treatments and using new technologies. The workshop aptly ended with some words of wisdom from LKCMedicine Dean Professor James Best, who echoed the importance of global collaboration, sharing experiences and data and working on joint projects.​

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