Researchers at the HCMPH have broad expertise across microbiome analysis tool development, epidemiology, nutrition, cancer biology, and immunology. Our goal is to transform our understanding of how the human microbiome influences health and disease, and to translate this knowledge into therapeutics and lifestyle interventions to improve public health.
Population health researchers at the HCMPH leverage epidemiologic techniques to understand how the human microbiome interacts with our bodies to identify populations at risk of a myriad of diseases. With access to powerful resources and clinical cohorts like the Health Professionals Follow-up Study and the Nurses’ Health Study, altogether comprising more than 3.5 million biospecimens, our researchers aim to discover links between the microbiome and human lifestyle, exercise, diet, metabolism, genetics, and disease risk.
Making Sense of Big Data
Data scientists at the HCMPH are developing new computational methods to investigate the roles of the human microbiome in health and disease. Studying the microbiome involves complex multidimensional datasets comprising metagenomics, metatranscriptomics, metaproteomics, and/or metabolomics datasets that are inherently noisy and often difficult to interpret. Our scientists create algorithms and statistical methods to distinguish the signal from the noise to decipher which microbial strains, genes, proteins, and molecules are most likely to be contributing to diseases like inflammatory bowel disease, cancer, or cardiovascular disease.
Digging Deep for Molecular Mechanisms
Armed with large-scale datasets and comprehensive analysis pipelines to prioritize microbes, genes, proteins, and molecules that are associated with health and disease, laboratory researchers at the HCMPH dive in to experimentally determine which factors play a causative role in disease, and how they work on a molecular level. From studying how particular genes or pathways affect the behavior of gut microbes, to investigating how microbes affect the function of human immune cells or intestinal organoids, to determining the effects of microbe-derived molecules on mouse models of disease, our scientists explore the mechanisms of how the microbiome interacts with the host.
Bringing New Insights to the Clinic
With our suite of analysis tools, population-scale associations, disease connections, and molecular mechanisms, the next step is to use the insights we gain to improve public health. The HCMPH is actively involved in translating our discoveries to the clinic by focusing on three areas. First, we explore how microbial signatures may be indicative of disease development and provide an opportunity for early detection of diseases like pancreatic cancer. Second, bwith a better understanding how the microbiome may determine an individual’s risk for developing disease, we hope that targeted interventions can alter the microbiome or its function to prevent or minimize disease, or to optimize the action of other therapies. Finally, we are interested in the intersection between the microbiome and precision medicine, whereby disease treatments can be personalized to each individual’s unique microbiome, genetics, and health characteristics to achieve better therapeutic efficacy and reduce side effects.