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Key Discovery for Better Recovery from Antibiotic Side Effects

Study by the Genome Institute Singapore (GIS) A*STAR and the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine present new findings on gut microbiome health following antibiotics consumption, providing insights to enhance recovery from antibiotic side effects.

Antibiotics are very commonly administered in the treatment of bacterial infections. Although antibiotics have proven to be effective in the treatment of most infections, its use can modify the composition of our extant gut microbiome and hence cause side effects such as increased risk of chronic conditions like diabetes, obesity and atopic dermatitis. However, the extent of the side effects is different across patients.

A recent collaborative study by researchers from the GIS at A*STAR and the Yong Loo Ling School of Medicine at NUS analysed hundreds of gut microbiome profiles of patients from three different countries and revealed that a small cluster of bacteria is indispensable to re-establish gut microbiome equilibrium after a course of antibiotics. Their discovery was published in the June Issue of Nature Ecology and Evolution and can explain the differences in different people’s experiences of and recovery from side effects after a course of antibiotics.

According to Dr Niranjan Nagarajan, Associative Director and Group Leader at GIS, principal investigator of this study, “Our guts harbour billions of bacteria, forming an ecosystem that serve as an additional ‘organ’ for our body. This ecosystem is supported by what we eat, but can also be destroyed by the antibiotics that we consume.”

Dr Nagarajan also drew parallels between the effects of antibiotics on the human gut microbiome and the destructiveness of forest fires on ecosystems. “The recovery of a forest’s ecosystem is dependent on its food-web relationships and the presence of certain key species. The same is also true for the gut microbial ecosystem”, said Dr Nagarajan.

The underlying principal of this study is that the bacteria which facilitate the re-establishment of intestinal microbial health contains important enzymes that break down carbohydrates host derived and consumed through food. These groups of bacteria support the whole gut ecosystem by breaking down carbohydrates, thereby producing energy that sustain the growth and proliferation of other microbes essential for maintaining a healthy gut. Therefore, the presence of bacteria reforms and reinforces the links in the gut microbial food web after a course of antibiotics and thus enhances the regain of microbial health in the gut.

This conclusive preliminary study sought to understand and draw up microbial ‘food-webs’ from intestinal microbiome data. The new knowledge that a small group of microorganisms is key to the re-equilibration of intestinal health after antibiotics administration confronts the long-held notion that antibiotic resistance and the continued proliferation of existing microbes are responsible for the recovery of gut health. It also provides alternative views and a fresh model for future studies looking at the recovery of gut health after the administration of antibiotics.

Professor Patrick Tan, Executive Director of GIS commented, “The synergy between different types of gut bacteria that promote recovery is an exciting direction of research. It needs to be further explored to protect our bodies from the side-effects of antibiotic usage.”

The research group is currently exploring further on this topic to better delineate the principles and intricacies behind the synergisms among different microbes which is essential for gut health recovery. In the future, antibiotic recovery options could take into account this new model and ideology about the re-establishment of key microbial ‘food-webs’ in the gut and focus on the consumption of appropriate pre- and post-biotics for a better overall intestinal recovery and health. [APBN]