Since 2011, The New York Times alone has published 10 articles on the human microbiome. Tending to the Body’s Microbial Garden (NYT 6/18/12) by Carl Zimmer reminds us that study of this area of research can lead to major medical breakthroughs – but it will require considerable effort. He quotes Michael A. Fischbach, a microbiologist at the University of California, San Francisco, “I cannot wait for this to become a big area of science.” Similarly, “There is No Healthy Microbiome” (NTY 11/1/14) points out that, “In return, everything from the food we eat to the medicines we take can shape our microbial communities — with important implications for our health. Studies have found that changes in our microbiome accompany medical problems from obesity to diabetes to colon cancer.” It is known that disruptions in the gut microbiome or pathogenic colonic bacteria can cause clinical disease (Cholera, Clostridium Difficile). However, as molecular approaches have enabled us to more specifically characterize the microbiome, we have discovered that it has role in both health and disease. Dysbiosis is the term used to describe a microbial imbalance within the body.
Recently, this topic was the subject of a well-attended panel discussion at The 2014 Annual meeting of the American College of Surgeons. “The Gut Microbiome: A Surgeon’s Hostile Adversary or Secret Savior” was delivered by a panel of researchers that included Michael Morowitz. In his talk, Dr. Morowitz remarked that, “surgical patients are a setup for dysbiosis and may benefit from therapeutic modification of the microbiome.” He too pointed out that, “there are 4 known examples of surgical topics impacted by the microbiome: cancer, wound healing, obesity and inflammatory bowel disease.”
A deeper understanding of our microbiome will enable surgeons to improve surgical outcomes.