Director's Message

New Discoveries Can Happen When Collaborations and Infrastructure Are Strong

In the Spring of 2009, we announced the creation of the St. Louis Neonatal Gut Microbiome Initiative. Barbara Warner, MD, professor of pediatrics, and her co-investigator Phillip Tarr, MD, the Melvin E. Carnahan Professor of Pediatrics at Washington University School of Medicine, were awarded a CDI grant to learn more about the biology of the human gut’s bacterial population and the role it plays in human diseases, including obesity, diabetes, asthma and autoimmune disorders.

Intestinal microbial colonization begins during the first year of life and may have lifelong consequences. Using sets of twin volunteers, the investigators and their colleagues proposed not only to determine the nature and concentration of microbes in the gut, but also to provide revolutionary data about the effects of human genes on bacterial content. These activities, they predicted, would form the basis for additional studies examining the role of early microbial colonization and health.

Just four years later, that prediction has been realized in the form of a published study in the March 19 issue of Clinical Infectious Diseases. The initial CDI grant allowed Dr. Warner, Dr. Tarr and their colleagues* to create the infrastructure necessary for scientific discovery. The investigators were able to parlay the collaborations, infrastructure and data that emerged from the original initiative into additional funding from the National Institutes of Health and other sources to show that preterm babies’ guts harbor infectious microbes that can cause late-onset sepsis.

These investigators did not know what they would find when they embarked on the St. Louis Neonatal Gut Microbiome Initiative. But then, scientific discovery is never entirely predictable. By allowing the process to unfold, researchers made important discoveries that suggest new strategies to detect and prevent severe bloodstream infections in newborn intensive care units (NICUs), insight made possible by the ripple effect of CDI seed funding.

*Carl MA, Ndao M, Springman AC, Manning SD, Johnson JR, Johnston BD, Burnham CD, Weinstock ES, Weinstock GM, Wylie TN, Mitreva M, Abubucker S, Zhou Y, Stevens HJ, Hall- Moore C, Julian S, Shaikh N, Warner BB, Tarr PI. Sepsis from the gut: The enteric habitat of bacteria that cause late-onset neonatal bloodstream infections. Clinical Infectious Diseases. March 19, 2014.

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