Microbiomes—communities of microorganisms that live on and in people as well as elsewhere in the environment—are essential to human health. The oral microbiome alone comprises approximately 700 bacterial species. And now, the White House has announced the National Microbiome Initiative (NMI), which aims to advance the understanding of these microscopic ecosystems to aid in the development of useful applications including healthcare.
“We expect that by accelerating progress in this important field, the NMI will deliver considerable benefits to our planet and those who inhabit it,” said Jo Handelsman, PhD, associate director for science at the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).
Specifically, the NMI will focus on the comparative study of microbiomes across different ecosystems to seek organizing principles that shape all microbiomes. Developed through a year-long fact-finding process involving federal agencies, nongovernmental scientists, and a broad community of other systems, the NMI’s goals include:
- Supporting interdisciplinary research to answer fundamental questions about microbiomes in diverse ecosystems;
- Developing platform technologies that will generate insights and help share knowledge of microbiomes in diverse ecosystems and enhance access to microbiome data;
- Expanding the microbiome workforce through citizen science and educational opportunities.
As part of these efforts, the American Association for Dental Research (AADR) worked with the OSTP to highlight the importance and value of the oral microbiome, which is unique, accessible, and highly amenable to modulation compared to other microbiomes elsewhere on or in the human body.
The AADR expects these efforts to lead to new opportunities for controlling dental caries and periodontitis, as well as their effects on systemic conditions including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and preterm birth. The lessons learned from the oral microbiome, the AADR also anticipates, will inform research into other diseases as well.
The Forsyth Institute, which is an AADR Institutional Section Member, will dedicate up to $100,000 per year for 3 years for pilot grant funding for novel microbiome projects at its newly formed Host-Microbiome Center, supporting exploratory or proof-of-principle studies that lack other funding sources as part of the NMI’s efforts. These studies must have the potential to develop into full-fledged research projects that test new paradigms or can lead to intellectual property or funding from the National Institutes of Health or other extramural sources.
“The Forsyth Institute is honored to be able to participate in the National Microbiome Initiative through the Massachusetts Host-Microbiome Center at Forsyth,” said Forsyth president and CEO Phil Stashenko, DMD, PhD.
The center will focus on the following 5 areas of investigation:
- Re-engineering the oral microbiome and modulating host inflammatory responses;
- Using defined microbial (gnotobiotic) systems to study crosstalk between the oral microbiome and the immune response;
- Characterizing microbial activities using metatranscriptomics that contribute to health or disease;
- Defining the “geography” of the oral microbiome to identify bacterial partnerships versus antagonisms;
- Replacing pathogens with commensal bacteria using prebiotics and probiotics.
“I believe that these efforts have great potential to lead to a reduction in the burden of oral diseases on the population, improve oral health, and further reduce health inequalities,” said Stashenko.
“Given the enormous opportunities, we hope the NMI will spur Congress to provide increased federal investments to all fields of microbiome research including to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) on the oral microbiome,” said AADR president Jack L. Ferracane, PhD.
“NIDCR funds a community resource providing comprehensive information on more than 700 different microbial species present in the oral cavity. Increased federal investments in oral microbiome research will lead to a better understanding of the 2 most common diseases affecting the population: dental caries and periodontal disease,” Ferracane said.
Together, federal agencies will invest more than $121 million in interdisciplinary, multi-ecosystem research and tools development. Other stakeholders and institutions have announced additional commitments of more than $400 million in financial and in-kind contributions, including $100 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and $12 million from the University of California, San Diego.