Showing posts with label ECCMID. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ECCMID. Show all posts

Thursday, May 5, 2016

This Month in Blastocystis Research (APR 2016)

I thought I’d give examples of some of the Blastocystis-related activities in which I was involved in April.

I was lucky to be invited as part of the faculty for this year’s ECCMID conference in Amsterdam. I had an opportunity to give a talk on Detection of protozoans using molecular techniques in routine clinical practice (click link to watch it). I also co-authored a poster with the title Blastocystis colonization correlates with gut bacterial diversity which is one of several studies recently performed by our group that suggest that Blastocystis is a biomarker – or an indicator if you wish – of a healthy gut microbial environment and high gut microbiota diversity. 

This very topic was one of the two major topics of my colleague Lee O’Brien Andersen’s PhD work; Lee just defended his thesis this Friday and being involved in his work is some of the most interesting, rewarding, and challenging professional activities I’ve experienced so far. I will soon provide a link to an electronic version of his thesis here on this site. I hope that we will be able to fund his post doc aiming to expand his work on comparative Blastocystis genomics, since he only just started this work. Also, I hope that we will be able to do much more research on Blastocystis’ impact on host immunity and gut microbiota using in vitro and in vivo models. We need to know much more about to which extent Blastocystis can actually induce changes in bacterial communities and what these changes are. We also need to know whether manipulation of gut bacteria in a Blastocystis carrier can lead to eradication of the organism. 

Last week, I was so fortunate to oversee the production of an e-learning course in faecal microbiota transplantation (FMT) for Unite European Gastroenterology (UEG), which will probably appear online already in June. FMT is currently used primarily for treating recurrent Clostridium difficile infections, but the application range may extend far beyond this. The presentations included both theoretical and live sessions, and it was a lot of fun to do, not only because of the topic, but also because my colleagues at the Agostino Gemelli University Hospital in Rome were extremely professional, enthusiastic and well-organised. The reason why FMT is interesting in a Blastocystis context includes the fact that while there are quite standardized guidelines as to what is not allowed in donor stool, there is no consensus on what is actually allowed in the stool. Obviously, Blastocystis will often be present in donor stool, and when conventional microbiological methods are used to screen donor stool for pathogens, Blastocystis will only rarely be picked up. Hence recipients may receive stool containing Blastocystis. And so of course we would like to know whether to recommend using or excluding stool positive for Blastocystis (and other common parasites such as Dientamoeba) for FMT.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

This Month in Blastocystis Research (APR 2015)

#ECCMID2015 took place in Copenhagen. It was a great venue with a lot of interesting sessions. My favourite presentation was by Dr Paul D Cotter. We have had the pleasure of doing some work together with Dr Pauline D Scanlan as the main driving force. In his talk, Dr Cotter highlighted the emergence of research exploring whether certain organisms are pathobionts or probionts; among these, Blastocystis. Among many things, Dr Cotter reviewed the two recent Blastocystis-specific publications by Scanlan et al. focusing on the commonness and stability of Blastocystis colonisation [1] and on the need to use subtype-specific PCRs to detect and identify mixed subtype colonisation/infection [2].

Based at TEAGASC - Ireland, the Cotter/Scanlan group is one of the teams interested in looking into the ecology of Blastocystis (and other microbial eukaryotes of the gut), including its influence of the parasite on gut microbiota/microbiome (structure and function of our all gut organisms) and vice versa, and I'm sure that there will be a lot of interesting data coming out from their lab in the near future.

Cotter mentioned that Blastocystis has been subject to bad science. This may be due to a number of reasons. When developing hypotheses, we have a tendency of opting for dichotomous outcomes - either it is this or that, - maybe that's the very nature of hypotheses. If the clinical significance of Blastocystis is dependent on a number of different things such as co-colonising microbes (cross-talk), differences in host immunity response, Blastocystis subtype, and host diet for instance, then the true tapestry of physiological/biological/clinical mechanisms is likely to be extremely difficult to uncover. Moreover, despite the fact that so many people are curious about the public health significance of Blastocystis, apparently very little funding for targeted Blastocystis research exists. This means that mostly minor and not so significant studies ("cheap studies") on Blastocystis are available. Relatively little seminal research has been done in the clinical field (including the field of gastroenterology), and most studies on Blastocystis are cross-sectional and descriptive and usually not very well designed/carried out (use of diagnostic tools with limited sensitivity, for instance).

Maybe things will change when more and more people realise that we might be able to use Blastocystis as a biomarker/surrogate marker of intestinal homeostasis...

In my opinion the following topics would make for good research projects:

1) Large studies of both diseased cohorts and healthy individuals, including Blastocystis subtype data and data on accompanying protists, bacteria and fungi (16S/18S/ITS profiling).
2) Manipulaton studies where Blastocytsis (cysts) are introduced in ecosystems (in vitro or in vivo) to monitor potential changes.
3) Animal models using cyst challenge (to look at microbiota profile changing upon challenge, and, if in vivo colitis models are used, impact on host immunity)
4) Longitudinal microbiome studies of patients with and without Blastocystis.
5) Investigation of Blastocystis as a biomarker/surrogate marker of microbiota profiles and gut microbiome homeostasis... similar to my recent blog post: 'Show me your gut bacteria, and I'll tell you if you have Blastocystis!'
6) Comparative genomics (virulence gene identification for instance).
7) Identification of Blastocystis-specific signatures in metagenomics data sets.
8) Identification of drugs that have anti-Blastocystis properties, since currently, there is no drug regimen that consistently enables eradication of Blastocystis.

Speaking of which: We just published data in Journal of Ethnopharmacology on the anti-Blastocystis activity of 24 plant parts from 21 medicinal plants from Ghana [3]. We performed in vitro challenge of 48 h Blastocystis cultured cells (subtype 4) using ethanolic, warm and cold water plant extracts. Screening of these 24 different plant parts showed significant anti-Blastocystis activity of six of the ethanolic extracts: Mallotus oppositifolius, IC50, 24h 27.8 µg/mL; Vemonia colorata, IC50, 24h 117.9 µg/mL; Zanthoxylum zanthoxyloides, cortex IC50, 24h 255.6 µg/mL; Clausena anisata, IC50, 24h 314.0 µg/mL; Z. zanthoxyloides, radix IC50, 24h 335.7 µg/mL and Eythrina senegalensis, IC50, 24h 527.6 µg/mL. The reference anti-protozoal agent metronidazole (MTZ) had an IC50, 24h of 7.6 µg/mL. Since cultures were xenic, antimicrobial activity was tested against two Gram-positive and two Gram-negative bacteria for all 24 plant parts at a final concentration of 1 mg/mL. Only C. anisata showed antimicrobial activity at a concentration of 800 µg/mL.

Hence, M. oppositifolius showed nearly as good activity as the reference anti-protozoal drug MTZ. Historically, the active plants found in this study have been used against dysentery, diarrhoea or other stomach disorders. Nowadays they are not used specifically for dysentery, but they are being used as medicinal plants against various stomach disorders.

Our book 'Biology of Foodborne Parasites' is out and available for ordering.

Incidentally, Blastocystis earned a designated chapter in the book 'Biology of Foodborne Parasites' which is now out and available for ordering here. It was fun writing it up, and hope that the chapter will be of interest to health care professionals and students around the world. The book also contains  introductions to the public health importance of foodborne parasites, molecular biological techniques in studies of foodborne parasites, and detection of parasites in foods.

References:

[1] Scanlan PD, Stensvold CR, Rajilić-Stojanović M, Heilig HG, De Vos WM, O'Toole PW, & Cotter PD (2014). The microbial eukaryote Blastocystis is a prevalent and diverse member of the healthy human gut microbiota. FEMS Microbiology Ecology, 90 (1), 326-30 PMID: 25077936   

[2] Scanlan PD, Stensvold CR, & Cotter PD (2015). Development and application of Blastocystis subtype-specific PCR reveals that mixed subtype infections are common in a healthy human population. Applied and Environmental Microbiology PMID: 25841010

[3] Bremer Christensen C, Soelberg J, Stensvold CR, & Jäger AK (2015). Activity of medicinal plants from Ghana against the parasitic gut protist Blastocystis. Journal of Ethnopharmacology PMID: 25773490