Meet the Psychobiome: Gut Bacteria that may Change how We Think, Feel & Act

Katya Gavrish is on the lookout for new brain drugs in the most unlikely place, i.e. in samples of human stool.

The earnest and focused microbiologist who was trained in Russia and loves to listen to classical music is working at a lab in Holobiome, a small startup company there.

She isolated and cultured bacteria together with her colleagues in hope of coming up with new treatments for depression and other brain and nervous system disorders.

The Link between Gut Bacteria & Certain Brain Disorders

The company consisting of 8 people is planning to capitalize on their growing evidence from their animal and epidemiological studies that associate gut bacteria with conditions like anxiety, autism, and Alzheimer’s.

Holobiome was founded 5 years ago and they’ve already created one of the biggest collections of human gut microbes. Their CEO, Phil Strandwitz who has a PhD in microbiology, doesn’t yet reveal what these new treatments will look like.

However, they do note that the diseases they target are insomnia, constipation, depression, and visceral ache.

The need for developing new drugs is on the rise, especially when it’s taken into account that a lot of the current meds for neuropsychiatric conditions don’t work for many patients and cause a lot of side effects.

Researchers see a promising option in the treatments based on microbes or psychobiotics, a term which was coined by John Cryan, a neuropharmacologist and Ted Dinan, a psychiatrist, both of whom work at the Cork College.

Indeed, this is a new and exciting field with a lot of potential.

What Are the Discoveries They Made by now?

Researchers have been collecting data suggesting that the microbes in our digestive tract may play a role in the regulation of our brain function and mental health.

Scientists have found a link between anxiety, stress, and depression with the species living in our gut, i.e. the psychobiome.

For microbiologist Jack Gilbert from the California, San Diego, and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, feeling ill may be linked with some gastrointestinal disorder. Gilbert is one of the pioneers of the studying of our gut microbiome.

He explains that the nerve signals reach our brain and change the brain chemistry and consequently, our mood, attitude, and as they believe, anxiety and depression.

One of the evidence they have is one where they infected lab mice with mental disorders like depression and anxiety. They did this through the transplantation of stool samples from human patients with gut microbes to the lab mice.

And, when infected with these samples, the mice started to behave in a depressive manner.

This involved changes in appetite, weight, and activities such as swimming. Julio Licinio, a psychiatrist from the State University of New York Upstate Medical University in Syracuse noted that it’s transmissible.

Their current race is to understand the role of different microbes in diseases of the brain.