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Towards a new frontier in global health

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. 

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.

Johan van Hylckama Vlieg

Senior Director, Human health - Microbiome Innovation

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 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?

I truly think we are entering into a disruptive period in healthcare at large, both in terms of how we think about preventive solutions but also treatments and cures. Working for Chr. Hansen, I get to be an important part of that journey with a chance to do something that can really impact people’s lives for the better—that, to me, is pretty exciting.

Johan van Hylckama Vlieg

Senior Director, Human health - Microbiome Innovation

The human microbiome

  • Humans have 10 times more microbes living in and on their bodies than human cells - or approx. 100 trillion bacteria
  • Each human carries approximately 1-2 kilograms of microbes 
  • The totality of microbes is known as the human microbiome, and the totality of its genetic potential is sometimes also referred to as our ‘second genome’ 
  • Super computers, such as the “MareNostrum” located in the Torre Girona chapel in Barcelona, play an important role in crunching the vast data sets generated in microbiome studies

1 WHO: GLOBAL HEALTH RISKS. Mortality and burden of disease attributable to selected major risks, 2009

Quick facts

1,9bn

More than 1,9 billion people struggle with overweight, almost one in every ten people worldwide suffer from diabetes, and millions of people suffer from cardiovascular, metabolic and gastrointestinal health diseases.

Antibiotic resistance

According to the WHO, antibiotic resistance is one of the most serious health threats facing society today. In addition, the use of antibiotics in early life is increasingly associated with health problems in later life.

14,000

Human microbes are already being applied to cure an antibiotic resistant disease called Clostridium difficile. The disease is estimated to kill approx. 14,000 people a year in the United States alone.

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