Microbes Pave Way for "Personalized Medicine"

Bauer Fellow Peter J. Turnbaugh and coworkers published work last month that could pave the way for techniques in “personalized medicine”—treatment which caters to an individuals’ unique genetic makeup.

The paper, which was published in the research publication “Cell,” demonstrated some of the specific effects certain drugs have on microbes in the human body.

The results of this study could help scientists and doctors predict and avoid side effects that may arise from their patients taking oral medication.


Even with advances in medicine, there are still a significant number of drugs that come with side effects of varying degree. These side effects are difficult for scientists to eliminate because every person’s response to drugs is individualized and unique.

In order to begin to understand these unique responses, Turnbaugh’s group analyzed the responses of various microbes found in the human gut, and their responses to various drugs and antibiotics.


After the microbes were treated with doses of the drugs, researchers inspected them for changes in their structure and gene expression.

By noting which groups of microorganisms changed in response to the treatment, Turnbaugh’s group was able to conclude which microbes interact most strongly with a series of six drugs and eight antibiotics.

Turnbaugh said that knowing these specific responses could help determine which drugs might prove damaging to specific patients.

According to Turnbaugh, the techniques used in the study were relatively new, and would not have been monetarily feasible for many research groups five years ago.

“There has been sort of a resurgence in the field in the last three years, primarily driven by the fact that [genetic] sequencing costs have decreased,” Turnbaugh said. “There’s a lot of feedback… and a lot of tools that tell us what genes are in [different bacteria’s] genome.”


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