Patients in the ICU are under constant surveillance, with consistent monitoring of their blood pressure, blood cultures, and other laboratory markers. These things help doctors understand how the patient is doing, if they need more attention, different medication, or how current treatment is doing. New research shows that another marker should be added to the list: gut bacteria. Paul Wischmeyer and other researchers are currently working on discovering the workings of gut bacteria, how it affects the health of ICU patients, and how it can be used to monitor these patients. His interest was sparked when he was diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease as a teenager, and he has been fascinated by gut bacteria ever since.
About Gut Bacteria and Wischmeyer’s Research
Humans are composed of more bacterial cells than they are human cells, and 99% of the genetic material in human bodies is bacterial. Because of the magnitude of bacterial material in humans, bacteria plays a large role in sickness. Wischmeyer has researched bacteria and its role in the human body throughout his entire career. His research is meant to discover what changes in the microbiome of bacteria in the gut when a patient has a severe illness. Eventually they would like to discover which types of bacteria could be put back into the gut to improve illnesses and which synthetic probiotic or synthetic stool transplant could help grow bacteria and fight off the harmful bacteria that comes with sickness.
Following the outline of research used by The American Gut Project, Wischmeyer and his colleagues collected samples from severely ill patients in ICUs across the U.S. and Canada during their stay in the hospital and after they had been discharged. As bacteria makes up so much of the genetic material in humans, the researchers hypothesized that some of the diversity of types of bacteria would be lost in the very sick patients. They thought that this loss of diversity in the microbiome could correlate with severe illness or possibly even predict them.
They found that healthy people have very diverse microbiomes, with one species of bacteria making up anywhere from 25-35% of the bacteria. In the ill patients, one species of bacteria dominated the microbiome, composing about 95% of the bacteria. Their study found that one species of bacteria, Faecalibacterium, which helps to nourish and protect the gut, was missing in the microbiomes of sick patients. This finding points to using this bacteria as a possible method of treatment for those in the ICU. Other results of the research were that some patients’ microbiomes changed to resemble neonatal microbiomes or those of corpses.
Further Research in Gut Bacteria
Wischmeyer says that further research needs to be done in order to find more patterns in gut bacteria, especially in seeing how it relates to specific illnesses. He also hopes that further research will help to establish gut bacteria as a way to treat people in the future. He hopes that tracking people’s microbiomes becomes a common practice in ICUs, just as tracking blood pressure is standard. He believes that this consistent monitoring could help to see undiagnosed infections or adverse outcomes. Along with using gut bacteria as something to monitor, he believes restoration therapy could help patients heal faster and remain healthy after they are discharged.
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