Gautam Dantas, PhD, has won a prestigious National Institutes of Health award for innovative research that may improve scientists’ ability to keep the digestive system healthy.
The award, called the NIH Director’s New Innovator Award, is part of the High Risk-High Reward program supported by the NIH Common Fund. Dantas’ award is funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
Dantas, an assistant professor of pathology and immunology and of biomedical engineering, garnered attention last year for an analysis of antibiotic resistance genes that had exchanged between soil bacteria and disease-causing bacteria.
With support from the new award, Dantas plans to look for genes that can help beneficial microbes establish a lasting presence in the human gut as a potential treatment for digestive disorders.
“The community of microorganisms in our gut performs critical functions for us, including metabolizing carbohydrates, producing vitamins and keeping out harmful microbes,” Dantas said. “One way in which we could treat a disruption to this community is by ingesting probiotics, which are live microorganisms in pills or food that can provide a health benefit to us. But most current probiotic microorganisms cannot establish a permanent place for themselves in the human gut, limiting their benefit to the short term.”
Dantas is searching for genes from microbes naturally found in the human gut that can be engineered into probiotic microbes to allow them to better integrate themselves into and persist in a normal gut community, helping to extend the engineered probiotics’ beneficial effects.