In a recent post, I discussed the release of a new drug to combat C. diff. In that post, an important theme was the fact that several types of germs can live in the bodies of humans without causing harm—until our bodies are no longer able to keep such germs in check. But exactly which types of germs live normally in the human body? Well, thanks to the dedication of many brilliant scientists, the Human Microbiome Project answers that question, as it has mapped out specifically which microbes live in the normal human body.
One of the project’s main areas of exploration was aimed at learning more about why certain microbes harm some individuals, but not others. In order to learn more about the various microbes, scientists analyzed the DNA of the many different types of germs. This endeavor involved over 200 scientists affiliated with nearly 80 different research institutions. Five years and $173 million dollars later, we now know more about the 10,000+ species of microbes that reside within the average human body, and how they all work together.
Another important insight this project highlights is that the microbial flora varies from person to person, varying based on factors like dietary choices, and where a person lives. This serves as an explanation for another important finding, which is that several different species of bacteria can be responsible for carrying out certain functions, such as digestion. In other words, a certain microbe that may play a role in your own digestive processes might be carried out by another microbial species in a friend that lives half way across the country.
This is important in gaining a better understanding of how to protect oneself from superbugs like C. diff. While that microbe can live in the normal gut flora of some individuals, without causing issues for such people, it can be a huge problem if ingested by other individuals whose systems are not used to its presence. Hence, the importance of engaging in practices to avoid contracting C. diff, as well as using properly using antibiotics only when necessary in order to avoid upsetting the normal gut flora in individuals who house the germ without trouble.
This newly attained information regarding what microbes are part of the normal human flora, scientists can conduct more research to further understand how the flora of individuals with various illnesses compare to the average person. Such research is essential in the fight against superbugs and healthcare-associated infections. For example, Dr. Phillip Tarr, one of the project’s lead researchers, who is now looking to learn more about what combination of gut flora can be used to fight C. diff, and also which combinations can aid C. diff in wreaking havoc on the human body.
While properly using antibiotic treatments is a necessity as we move forward, the Human Microbiome Project demonstrates the many other areas we have yet to explore in the fight against superbugs and other disease-causing microbes. We still need to keep in mind that no treatment option is a permanent fix, and it is the responsibility of both healthcare professionals as well as patients and their families to take the necessary steps to promote patient safety and overall health.