With global health challenges on the rise, there may be help to find in the trillions of bacterial cells that flourish in and on the human body. Building on the latest scientific advancements, Chr. Hansen is applying its core skills in the development of human bacteria to address some of the world’s biggest health challenges.
Global health challenges on the rise
Despite significant advancements in global health over the past century, society remains faced with staggering health challenges. In the developing world, hunger and malnutrition together remains the number one challenge, while in high and middle-income countries obesity and chronic immune diseases are on the rise1. At the same time, extensive use of antibiotics is causing new and unexpected challenges, including antibiotic-resistant bacteria and health problems associated with the use of antibiotics in early life.
The human microbiome: A scientific break-through
One of the answers to the global healthcare challenges that lie ahead may well come from a better understanding of how our health is impacted by the trillions of bacteria that reside in and on our own bodies and in particular in our digestive track, also known as the human microbiome.
“We are learning that the human microbiome actively influences our physical health and potentially even our mental health. Or put differently, it can be part of the reason why people get sick or, conversely, what helps them stay healthy. There is huge potential in obtaining a better understanding of the beneficial bacteria that reside in our gut and in creating the proper conditions for them to work in our favor,” explains Johan van Hylckama Vlieg, who is leading Chr. Hansen’s microbiome innovation program.
Enabled by new advancements in technology, there is an increased interest from academia, the public and the private health sector in turning the growing knowledge about the human microbiome into new and ground-breaking applications for diagnosis, prevention and treatment of diseases.
“Our ultimate goal is to understand which changes in the microbiome increase the risk of disease and identify the 1, 2, 3 or maybe even more strains that can really make a difference in terms of improving people’s health.”
What does the future hold?
There is still some way to go in converting the growing understanding of the human microbiome into applicable solutions for the prevention and treatment of microbiota-related diseases. One of the biggest hurdles in the years to come will be to learn how to grow and produce these bacteria, which are highly sensitive to air and have special growth requirements. To help overcome these barriers, Chr. Hansen is investing significantly in new research facilities and has entered into a partnership with leading academic institutions in the human microbiome field .
Cees de Jong, CEO of Chr. Hansen, says of the partnership: “Chr. Hansen has been a world leader in fermentation technology for 140 years, and we have one of the industry’s strongest technological platforms for the production of microbes. We are now using this platform to expand into new generations of microbial solutions for human health, and with these agreements in place, we can strengthen our strategic research efforts and accelerate product development.”
And as for the scientist who has made the practical application of science into the human microbiome his personal and professional mission; what does the future hold in his view?
1 WHO: GLOBAL HEALTH RISKS. Mortality and burden of disease attributable to selected major risks, 2009