The program will receive $3.4 million over three years to broaden the current study of pediatric abdominal pain and irritable bowel syndrome. A key question will be how human microbes affect pain signaling in the nervous system.
Understanding microscopic organisms
The Human Microbiome Project was launched by the NIH in 2008 to help researchers better understand how the trillions of microscopic organisms that live in or on the human body affect human health and lives.
One of three NIH-designated genome centers, the BCM Human Genome Sequencing Center has been involved with the Human Microbiome Project since the initial launch.
In June 2009, the NIH announced the first clinical projects generated by the Human Microbiome Project. BCM received one of 15 awards and after a competitive review, received a three-year renewal award.
"Metagenomics (study of microbial genomes) is going to have a tremendous impact on the future of medicine," said Dr. James Versalovic, principal investigator on the project and a professor of pathology, pediatrics, molecular and human genetics, and molecular virology and microbiology at BCM. "We are excited to be involved in this major NIH initiative. It highlights the advancements of the BCM Human Genome Sequencing Center and our collaboration with Texas Children's Hospital."
Key collaborators on the project include Drs. Richard Gibbs, director of the BCM Human Genome Sequencing Center; Joseph Petrosino, assistant professor of molecular virology and microbiology at BCM; Amy McGuire, associate professor in the Center for Medical Ethics and Health Policy at BCM; Robert Shulman, professor of pediatrics – gastroenterology, hepatology and nutrition at BCM and director of the Nutritional Support Team at Texas Children's.
Healthy children and children with irritable bowel syndrome or abdominal pain will be recruited through Texas Children's Hospital and Texas Children's Pediatric Associates.
"This project will be scaled up from 40 children last year to 150 this year," said Versalovic.
As an expansion of the project, DNA and RNA samples from the children's gastrointestinal tract will be sequenced to better understand the composition and function of the microbial community of this area of the body and how it might affect abdominal pain and gastrointestinal motility.
"Irritable bowel syndrome and chronic abdominal pain can be very severe and painful in children," said Versalovic, also chief of pathology at Texas Children's, as well as director of the Texas Children's Microbiome Center. "We are hopeful our findings will lead to many new discoveries in diagnosis and treatment for these conditions in children, as well as adults." This project has benefitted from scientific and clinical collaborations within the Texas Medical Center Digestive Diseases Center.
Currently, the conditions are hard to diagnose and treat.
This project is supported by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.