TAMPA, Fla (July 21, 2021) – USF Health today announced the launch of a major university-wide institute dedicated to harnessing the huge populations of bacteria, viruses, fungi and other microbes inhabiting our bodies and our planet – known as microbiomes – to improve health and develop new treatments.
Based at USF Health Morsani College of Medicine, the new USF Institute for Microbiomes builds upon an ambitious microbiome initiative begun two years ago. That USF Initiative on Microbiomes has sparked interdisciplinary collaborations across the university to better understand how the diverse collections of microorganisms, unique to each person, might be exploited to benefit human health. It has also included studies of marine and soil microbial communities, which hold the potential to protect environmental as well as human health by mitigating climate change and food insecurity and generating alternative energy sources.
“As the university’s key constituent in this groundbreaking area of research, USF Health looks forward to accelerating microbiome discoveries and learning opportunities and applying this new knowledge to solve some of the most challenging real-world health problems,” said Charles J. Lockwood, MD, senior vice president for USF Health and dean of the Morsani College of Medicine. “The USF Institute for Microbiomes will unite investigators with different perspectives, both within and outside USF, to create stronger cross-disciplinary teams and provide shared resources needed to garner external grants, contracts and other funding sources.”
The institute will strengthen existing microbiota-related collaborations with Moffitt Cancer Center as well as partner with other leading academic institutions and pharmaceutical/biotechnology companies to advance the research and development of innovative treatments and other microbiome-based solutions.
“The institute will play an important role in raising the university’s visibility as a pioneer of microbiome research, education and training, community engagement, and entrepreneurship,” said USF Health’s Christian Bréchot, MD, PhD, director of the USF Institute for Microbiomes. “Unraveling the behavior, interactions and function of microbial communities in different environments has the potential to transform not only medicine and other health fields, but also disciplines like marine science, ecology, chemistry, engineering, data science and anthropology.”
Still in the early stages, microbiome research has exploded globally as more studies probe how unbalanced microbial composition in the gut, skin, lungs and other parts of body influences disease, said Dr. Bréchot, who also serves as president of the Global Virus Network, associate vice president for International Partnerships and Innovation at USF Health; and professor of medicine (infectious diseases) at the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine.
Altering these microorganisms to restore balance holds promise for treating a growing number of medical conditions, including cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, metabolic disorders such as diabetes and obesity, prematurity, cardiovascular diseases, and neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. Evidence also suggests that the gut microbiome affects the sensitivity to and mitigation of viral infections, in particular COVID-19. Scientists continue to learn more about complex microbe-host interactions that might be used to identify individuals more likely to respond favorably to, or resist, a particular drug or immunotherapy.
The USF Institute for Microbiomes will expand the scholarly activities started by the university’s Initiative on Microbiomes, including:
- Recruitment of federally funded faculty: Hariom Yadav, PhD, associate professor of neurosurgery and brain repair, was recently recruited as the first core faculty member of the USF Institute for Microbiomes. Dr. Yadav’s NIH and U.S. Department of Defense-supported research focuses on role of the microbiome in the gut-brain axis, including how microbiome modulators like probiotics, diet, and medications may improve mood. He directs the institute’s Center for Microbiome Research, which organizes technologies and resources for microbial studies, including human microbiome/probiotics biorepositories, tools to grow bacteria and perform fecal microbiota transplantation in transgenic models, and machines to sequence the genomes of microbes.
- Member of national microbiome cooperative network: USF recently became one of only 38 U.S. academic institutions granted membership to the Microbiome Centers Consortium over the last two years.
- USF Microbiome Research Awards: USF Health established competitive internal seed grants (up to $100,000 for two years) to advance early-phase microbiome research projects teaming investigators from two or more USF colleges or departments.
- Microbiome, Immunology and Infection Mitigation Hub: This research focus area, created as part of the Pandemic Response Research Network at USF, aims to develop precision therapies to reduce COVID-19 and other infections by investigating both nutritional regimens and nanoparticle delivery systems to modify gut microbiota.
- Partnership with the Global Virus Network: USF Health partnered with the Global Virus Network to offer the online course Microbiomes and their Impact on Viral Infections. World-renowned experts share the latest knowledge on the intestinal microbiome’s potential role in preventing, reducing, and treating infectious diseases, including