Asthma and the Microbiome – Justin L. Sonnenburg PhD Interview

Defeating Asthma Series uncovers New Hope for Asthma Management

In this interview with Justin L. Sonnenburg PhD, Associate Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at Stanford University, we learn diseases largely driven by inflammation and an altered immune system may benefit from taking our microbiome into account.

Our understanding of Asthma and the way we treat it may soon be radically different from what currently exists, due to new research on the human microbiome and how the microbiome affects asthma.

“Diseases largely driven by inflammation and an altered immune system. If we start to take our gut microbiota into account, as we live our life, as we make medical decisions, eat different foods and potentially even eventually reintroduce some of these lost microbes, how profound can the impact be on our health?” Justin L. Sonnenburg Ph.D

Interview

World Asthma Foundation: Dr. Justin L. Sonnenburg Associate Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at Stanford University, well known author, sought after speaker and an infectious disease investigator.

Dr. Sonnenburg’s interest includes the basic principles that govern interactions within the intestinal microbiota and between the microbiota and the host. To pursue these aims, they colonize germ-free (gnotobiotic) mice with simplified, model microbial communities, apply systems approaches (e.g. functional genomics), and use genetic tools for the host and microbes to gain mechanistic insight into emergent properties of the host-microbial super-organism.

World Asthma Foundation: Good afternoon, Dr. Sonnenburg, and thanks for agreeing to the interview.

Dr. Justin L. Sonnenburg: Great to be with you.

World Asthma Foundation: Super. Asthmatics want to know some things you’ve written about the gut. We know for example that we need more fiber. We also know that we need to eat healthier, but for some of us, unfortunately, the gut for a variety of reasons is out of whack or disrupted. Some suggested the potential of Missing Microbes. The gut is a delicate ecosystem. The question that I have for you today is can we get some of those microbes back?

Dr. Justin L. Sonnenburg: I think that’s a key question. It’s very clear that we’ve done things during the process of industrialization and things that are associated with our modernized lifestyle now, antibiotics, highly processed food, C-sections, baby formula. There are a lot of things that have been associated with microbiome deterioration.

The question is when we lose microbes or change this malleable component of our biology, our gut microbiota, how meaningful is that for our biology? I think what’s really interesting and notable is that at the same time that our microbiome has been changing, we’ve seen this incredible rise in what we call Western diseases or non-communicable chronic diseases.

Diseases largely driven by inflammation and an altered immune system. I think that a big question is if we start to take our gut microbiota into account, as we live our life, as we make medical decisions, eat different foods and potentially even eventually reintroduce some of these lost microbes, how profound can the impact be on our health?

Can we greatly improve the status of our immune system? Potentially both preventing the onset of chronic diseases and maybe even helping to treat or reduce the severity of some of these diseases.