A NEWCASTLE research team that’s used mice poo to treat asthmatic mice could be first in the world to show a link between gut bacteria and diseases throughout the body.
The team’s ‘‘transpoosions’’ of faecal matter from healthy mice into the guts of mice with respiratory conditions feature in a research paper that’s expected to significantly advance the recent, and stunning, evidence of the role played by gut bacteria in human health.
A conference four years ago, a chance meeting on a bus, and gut instinct led University of Newcastle respiratory specialist Professor Phil Hansbro to investigate the possible relationship between gut bacteria and severe respiratory conditions.
The results, in a research paper undergoing peer review for publication in one of the world’s leading science journals, have led to an application for human trials.
Healthy volunteers registered with the Hunter Medical Research Institute could provide faecal matter to be introduced to the guts of people with chronic respiratory conditions including severe asthma, emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
‘‘As scientists we’re always careful not to overstate things, but I think it’s got real potential to translate into human treatments,’’ Professor Hansbro said.
The ‘‘transpoosions’’ are a direct result of increasing scientific interest in the 1000-odd microbes that live in the human gastro-intestinal tract, which remained largely unexamined until changes in the way they were cultured.
Researchers around the world are investigating the potential for using gut microbes to treat chronic diseases and some cancers.
Professor Hansbro’s team, which works with the University of Queensland’s Australian Centre for Ecogenomics, has focused on finding treatments for severe respiratory conditions.
‘‘One in 10 Australians have asthma. Between 5 and 10 per cent of asthmatics have severe asthma, and between 50 and 80 per cent of the total health care costs for asthma relate to those severe asthma patients,’’ Professor Hansbro said.
‘‘The standard asthma treatments don’t work for those patients so there is no treatment for them.’’
Chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, which include emphysema, have become the world’s third most common cause of death in the past five years and have no effective treatments.
The ‘‘transpoosions’’ were possible because of up to 15 years work at the University of Newcastle developing experimental models capable of testing how disease develops in living things.
While asthma and emphysema were viewed as lung conditions, they were actually whole body conditions, Professor Hansbro said.
The doubling of asthma rates worldwide in the past 40 years had led researchers to investigate the immune system, but scientists were now investigating whether changing diets had changed gut bacteria, producing systemic inflammation that included severe respiratory conditions.
Professor Hansbro said he was excited by research at a conference four years ago that raised the possibility of providing a treatment for chronic and severe respiratory conditions by changing gut bacteria.
He was very pleased the work was being done in the Hunter region.
‘‘I think it’s fantastic, and really good for the Hunter. Newcastle’s a fantastic place,’’ he said.