The Microbiome Research Centre (MRC) has been the most significant breakthrough for medical research in the St George and Sutherland catchment area. In February 2017, the Hon Greg Hunt, Minister for Health, announced a federal government grant of $4 million to the St George & Sutherland Medical Research Foundation (SSMRF) to establish the Microbiome Research Centre at St George Hospital.
We believe this is an Australian first, that is the only Microbiome Research Centre (MRC) in Australia dedicated to undertaking research in the human microbiota and utilising state of the art science to answer important clinical questions. It is unique in being fully embedded in a large clinical campus.
The Microbiome Research Centre is a collaboration between St George & Sutherland Medical Research Foundation (SSMRF), University of NSW (UNSW) and the South-East Sydney Local Health District (SESLHD).
Research will be undertaken across two clinical campuses at St George Hospital in Kogarah and The Sutherland Hospital but the MRC will also collaborate widely across Sydney, nationally and internationally.
Leading this initiative is Professor Emad El-Omar (pictured below), the new Professor of Medicine for the University of NSW and based at St George Hospital. Professor El-Omar has recently relocated from Aberdeen; he is a gastroenterologist, Editor in Chief of the journal GUT and a world expert on the microbiome.
So why is the microbiome so vital to our health? Well, when it comes to life-saving potential it turns out the gut is a gold mine. Most people think of bacteria as the cause of getting sick but the trillions of bacteria making up communities in our body, referred to as the microbiota, are now unlocking mysteries at an incredible pace.
This integral internal ecosystem benefits our gut health and our immune system. The chemicals they emit interfere with the way food is digested, medicine is deployed, and even how a disease, like heart disease, metabolic disorders, or even cancer, progress.
One of the most important determinants of a healthy microbiota is diet. In circumstances where the host consumes a healthy diet (e.g. rich in fresh fruits, vegetables and low on animal-derived fat and protein), that healthy balance is maintained. However, a poor diet (rich in animal protein and fat and high on refined sugars) has been associated with dysbiosis and the proliferation of potentially harmful bugs. Other causes of dysbiosis include excessive use of antibiotics, lack of physical activity, use of certain drugs and smoking.
In October 2017 SSMRF announced the first six MRC grants which includes studies of the effect of the microbiome in pregnancy, bowel cancer, head and neck cancer, clotting and thrombosis, systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD).
Once fully established, the MRC will be engaged in research that contributes to at least eight of the nine Australian National Health Priority Areas (cancer control, obesity, diabetes, mental health, cardiovascular health, arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions, asthma, dementia). As such, we envisage the MRC as a unique contributor to understanding, treating and preventing the health issues facing Australia.
This research will positively impact those served by St George Hospital and The Sutherland Hospital over the next 10 years.