A healthy gut 'key' to preventing disease

Australia is poised to become a leader in gut health, with the establishment of the The Microbiome Research Centre in Sydney.

The "most exciting" story in medicine in recent years has been the link between the gut and disease.

An unhealthy gut microbiota has been linked to many cancers, including colon cancer. It has also been linked to asthma, mental illness and autism.

Australia is now poised to become the global frontier in navigating this still mostly unchartered territory with the establishment of a new research centre dedicated to micro gut health research.

Federal funding of $4 million, announced by Health Minister Greg Hunt on Wednesday, will go to The Microbiome Research Centre at Sydney's St George and Sutherland Hospital.

The new centre would improve research capacity by attracting more expert researchers to the region, said Mr Hunt.

Living inside the bowel, or intestine, is a community of thousands of good and bad bacteria known as the gut microbiota.

The "organ" also homes more than three million genes.

Professor Emad El-Omar - the Professor of Medicine at the St George and Sutherland Clinical School, UNSW Australia - says it only makes sense that a healthy gut produces a healthy individual.

"You've got this organ growing within your bowel that has 10 times more cells than human cells, a hundred times more genes than your own human genes, it weighs the same as the brain and it has the same metabolic activity as the liver, so clearly it has an impact on very aspect of your health and disease," Prof El-Omar told AAP.

It's estimated that half the Australian population will complain of a digestive problem over the next 12 months.

Research into this area is vital if we want to prevent disease because the microbiota imbalance impacts many aspects of health , Prof El-Omar says.

"Understanding how that imbalance occurs is very key because we can manipulate it, that's the beauty of it."

This means, he says, there's potential to reverse many diseases.

"And that's what it's all about, it's about prevention. We want to interrupt cancer. We don't want to be dealing with cancer at the end, we want to be stopping it from the beginning," Prof El-Omar said.

"We want to be reversing diabetes, reversing obesity, all of these things are potentially preventable.

"It really touches the very basis of disease going at the beginning at the inception of it and trying to reverse it."

The hope and ambition of Prof El-Omar and his team at the "state-of-art" research centre is to provide medical research that is going to provide enough understanding that will lead to the "saving of lives".

Source AAP

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