“The aim is to identify biomarkers for the development of tailor-made dietary products and medicines,” says Sven Pettersson, the professor at Karolinska Institutet who is heading up the project.
The research field, which studies the relationship between bacteria and host, is in an expansive phase. New findings have shown showing that our normal gut flora have the ability to affect our bodily functions in ways which we did not previously realise were possible. We now know that our gut flora strengthen the immune system, affect the formation of blood vessels in the gut wall, regulate the storage of fat, affect the detoxification system that breaks down medicines in the liver, and have an anti-inflammatory effect on local inflammatory processes in the gastrointestinal tract.
“But this is just the tip of the iceberg,2”, says Pettersson. “Even more remarkable is the fact that bacterial products can also have a systemic effect. Identifying these substances, their signalling paths and, of course, the target organs is also one of the main aims of the project.”
The Tornado team comprises members from eight countries, with representatives from both academia and industry. Tornado is an acronym for: “molecular Targets Open for Regulation by the gut flora; New Avenues for improved Diet to Optimize European health”. Alongside Pettersson, the research work will be led by professor Joseph Rafter and Dr Velmurugesan Arulampalam at Karolinska Institutet.
Research into gut flora is a priority at Karolinska Institutet, and is carried out on mice especially reared under sterile conditions in a unique animal unit. This is known as germ-free research, and begun in the 1950s by the late professor Bengt Gustafsson. It is also one of the factors that attracted EU funding for TORNADO. The project is set to strengthen Karolinska Institutet´s international standing further in this research field.
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