In the quest for personalized therapies, most research has focused on how an individual’s genome controls their body’s responses to drugs. However, there is increasing evidence that a person’s unique microbiome — the population of bacteria and other microbes that live in their body — can be key to determining whether or not a drug works for their condition. Researchers now have evidence that healthy people metabolize some drugs in different ways depending on their microbial make-up. They presented their data on 4 June at the meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in New Orleans, Louisiana. Bacteria living in the human body will eat any nutrient that comes their way, whether it’s food from the host’s diet or a drug that the person is taking. But this dietary flexibility can become problematic if the microbes metabolize a drug into useless or toxic compounds. To see whether a person’s microbiome affected how they metabolized drugs, Guthrie and her colleagues collected faecal samples from 20 healthy people. When the researchers analysed the proteins produced in the faecal samples, they found that those from people with high bacterial metabolisms contained strains that made more β-glucuronidases. These people also had increased levels of proteins that transport sugar into cells, which suggests they would be more likely to absorb the toxic compound and develop gastrointestinal problems. It’s a nice step towards understanding how gut-bacterial enzymes interact with drugs, says Matthew Redinbo, a structural biologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who also studies irinotecan. “Our biggest insight is to look at gut enzymes and think about them the same way as human” enzymes, he says.
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