Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research > News > 2016 > Thorsten Brach
30 March 2016
Thorsten Brach to join the Center as a Marie S. Curie fellow
Thorsten Brach, a German researcher, is to join Manimozhiyan Arumugam’s Group, Section for Metabolic Genetics, funded by the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship. The grant from the European Union was received in January 2016 to investigate the interplay between the microbes in the gut and inflammation in the context of aging.
The human gut hosts an astounding number of microbes, estimated to 100 trillion in number. Together, they form a dynamic ecosystem referred to as the gut microbiota. In other words, the gut microbiota is a collective term for all the microbes living in the gut.
Accumulating evidence indicates that both the gut microbes and inflammation have an important impact on the aging process. Chronic inflammation is commonly observed among elderly people and it worsens their health problems. This phenomenon has been termed InflammAging.
As the immune system causes inflammation, and gut microbes play a vital role in the regulation of the immune system, it is likely that the gut microbiota is a key factor in the InflammAging phenomenon. The project aims to determine specific members of the gut microbiota that drive or inhibit age-associated inflammation.
The current demographic trends towards an older population emphasize the importance of healthy aging for life quality and health costs in European societies. “Since the gut microbiota can be changed, for example via diet, probiotics, and antibiotics, it holds promising potential as therapeutic target to promote healthy aging,” says Thorsten. “These are key reasons why we want to better understand the interplay of the gut microbiota, inflammation, and age-associated morbidities,” he adds.
Furthermore, the project integrates well into planned and ongoing research at the Novo Nordisk Center for Basic Metabolic Research on metabolic and inflammatory diseases because age is a critical risk factor for these diseases.
The project will be based on an interdisciplinary approach that combines cell sorting and microscopy techniques with DNA sequence analysis. This combination of techniques will make it possible to estimate both the inflammatory potential and the composition of the gut microbes, and thus to identify microbial species that are potential protectors or drivers of age-associated inflammation.
“The methodology is based on a recent publication from a research group in the USA (Palm et al., Cell, 2014), and we want to adjust and implement this approach for our research purposes here in Europe,” says Thorsten. An important part of the wet-lab work will be carried out in collaboration with Prof. Michael Knop at the ZMBH (Heidelberg, Germany).
Furthermore, the project will test whether periodic fasting, an intervention with described positive effects on metabolic health, can positively modulate the inflammatory potential and composition of the gut microbes in aged mice. This work relies on collaboration with the Department of Biology (UCPH).
Brach and his supervisor Manimozhiyan Arumugam hope that this interdisciplinary approach will advance understanding of the role of the microbiota in aging and age-associated inflammation. They further hope that the implemented techniques to complement composition analyses with the detection of inflammatory features will strengthen future gut microbiota research at the Center.
“The Marie Curie fellowship allows me to engage in an inter-sectorial project together with great scientists in the nice city of Copenhagen,“ says Thorsten and adds: “The work will significantly broaden my wet-lab and data science skills. It will further enable me to become a researcher in the gut microbiota field, which is a more applied scientific environment than I have worked in before. I am really looking forward to it.”
The project’s scientific title: Age-associated signatures in the composition and pro-inflammatory status of the gut microbiome in humans and mice, and the impact of a periodic fasting intervention to promote healthy aging.
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