Gut Microbiota for Health Summits

To raise recognition and expand knowledge in this fast moving field, the Gut Microbiota for Health Summit aims at translating the most recent advances to the medical community. World-leading experts meet annualy to discuss the latest advances in gut microbiota research and its impact on health.

The gut microbiota decade: a major discovery that will shape the future of medical practice

Leading experts gathered in March in Paris to review the major discoveries from the last ten years around gut microbiota. Due to its importance for overall health, the community of bacteria inhabiting human gut is now considered as a supra organ involved in key functions, including immune and digestive activity and organ functioning, among others. Recent research has also shown it could act as a biomarker for disease and a fundamental target for specific interventions, including therapeutic and dietary ones.

The gut microbiota and its impact on health and diseases was the topic of the gathering of medical and scientific experts including gastroenterologists, paediatricians, nutritionists and dieticians during the sixth Gut Microbiota for Health World Summit. Prof. Francisco Guarner, gastroenterologist and researcher at University Hospital Vall d’Hebron (Spain) and chair of the Scientific Committee, explains “Our knowledge on the microbial communities that inhabit the human gut has grown exponentially during the last decade. The Summit aimed at decoding the most recent advances (gut-brain-microbiome axis, IBS, IBD, pediatrics, …) for the medical community.” The event was held for the first time in Paris on March 11th and 12th and was jointly organized by the European Society of Neurogastroenterology & Motility (ESNM), the European Society for Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition (ESPGHAN), and the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA), with the support of Danone, Biocodex and Sanofi.

Key finding from 10 years of research: Gut microbiota as a new “supra organ”

The past ten years have seen remarkable gains in knowledge about the gut microbiota, thanks to major gut microbiota research projects in the US, Europe, and Asia. According to Dr. Joël Doré, Research Director at the French Research Institute in Agricultural Sciences (INRA) "The tools we can use to assess the microbiome and thereby try and understand 'man-microbe symbiosis' have gained in resolution and sensitivity." For Prof. James Versalovic, Pathologist-in-Chief at Texas Children's Hospital and Professor of Pathology at Baylor College of Medicine (USA), “The US Human Microbiome Project has provided a new perspective on the body of a healthy human through the study of its associated microorganisms. Each body site, including the intestine, has a distinct microbial community.”

Increasing data supports the idea that the human body is not complete without microbes—especially the microbes living in the intestinal tract. Given the unique functions of the gut microbiota, some have described it as a ‘supra organ’ that should be afforded the same level of attention as any other part of the body. "The gut microbiota is essential for any mammal, including humans, to fully develop its intestine, immune system, vascular system and nervous system,” Versalovic points out. “In other words, to be fully human requires a diverse and fully functional gut microbiome. It is not possible to discuss human health today without describing the role of gut microbiota in sustaining and restoring human health.”

How modern life can affect the gut microbiota

In many disease conditions, from functional bowel disorders and inflammatory bowel disease to type two diabetes and obesity, scientists find a disruption of the normal microbial community that leads to a breakdown of host-microbe symbiosis — a condition called ‘dysbiosis’. According to Jöel Doré "We changed many things over the past few generations that were key to the mutualistic association with our microbes. This probably contributed in a marked way to the increase in incidence of immune-mediated diseases we have seen on the rise for more than 60 years now, seemingly uncontrolled."

Doré points out that there are three major elements of modern lifestyle that have the strongest impact on the human-microbe symbiosis: nutrition, environmental exposures to chemicals and drugs, and conditions surrounding birth. When it comes to nutrition, research shows an unbalanced diet including a lack of fibre could have detrimental effects on health through the gut microbiota. Doré says, "After 100,000 generations receiving more than 60% of their energy from plant-based food, over 2-3 generations we brought this down to 10%.”

The modern lifestyle, including stress, and antibiotics treatments or chemotherapy, have also shown to have an important impact on gut bacteria. More recently, research has also confirmed that gut microbiome has an influence on the bidirectional communication between the gut and the brain. Discoveries around the gut microbiome-brain axis will maybe change the way some conditions are perceived (including autism, depression and anxiety, among others).

Microbiota modulation: nutrition and medications as key strategies

One of the insights to come out of Chinese metagenomics projects reinforced the importance of nutrition, as it showed a close connection between diet and health. "Diet is the major force in shaping the gut microbiota," points out Dr. Liping Zhao, professor of microbiology at Shanghai Jiao Tong University and leader of the Functional Metagenomics Platform at Shanghai Center for Systems Biomedicine emphasizes.

Probiotics have been tested in many clinical trials to date. Some of them demonstrated benefits of probiotics in prevention of antibiotic-associated diarrhea, of allergy disease in early life, or improvement of symptoms in adult irritable bowel syndrome and some liver diseases. Further insights are needed into the yeast strains or bacterial species and the doses that effectively modulate the gut microbiota to produce different health outcomes.

Understanding and modeling the complexity of the intestinal ecosystem is an important challenge in the field—and one that may be critical to the future of healthcare. "Concepts and practices in human nutrition will change as we begin to couple food intake with changes in the behavior of the gut microbiota,” predicts Versalovic. “We will consider nutrition and medications differently in pediatric and adult medicine based on life-stage-specific differences in the microbiota.” Specific new therapies that target gut bacteria are also on the global research agenda. Going from the basic science to the clinic, however, will not be without its challenges. "The biggest barrier to translation is that the gut microbiota is so complex that it is taking time—plenty of time in years—for many scientists to find the signals and ‘hike’ through the noise to get to new diagnostics and therapeutics as cornerstones of metagenomic medicine," Versalovic says.

The Gut Microbiota for Health World Summit takes place in an important context: in view of the recent discoveries on the broad impact of gut microbiota in human health, experts point out the need for medical practice guidelines for physicians, nutritionists and other health care professionals. Sharing knowledge and experiences, as will be done in this conference, is key for achieving a better understanding and implementation of interventions to protect our unique bacterial partners.

Past Summits

Gut Microbiota for Health World Summit, March 5-6 2016, Hilton Miami Downtown, Miami, Florida, US

  • Click here to read the Summit report!

Gut Microbiota for Health World Summit Barcelona, Spain - March 13 - 15, 2015

Gut Microbiota & Health World Summit, March 8 – 9 , 2014, Miami, FL, USA – in cooperation with AGA

Gut Microbiota & Health Summit, February 24 – 16, 2013, Madrid, Spain – in cooperation with AGA

Gut Microbiota & Health Summit, March 26 – 28, 2012, Évian, France

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