Bioscience article looks at establishing germ-free models for preclinical research of the microbiota.

When our gut microbiota are thrown out of balance evidence suggests that it also promotes the development of irritable bowel disease. The connection doesn’t end there. Aberrations in the microbiome have been linked to other gastro-intestinal disorders as well, and conditions as varied as depression, anxiety, autism, diabetes and obesity, rheumatoid arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, and perhaps some cancers.

There is now a whole community of scientists who see the microbiome as ripe for exploration. Several microbiome-related products in clinical trials (for IBD and Clostridium difficile) and new collaborations being formed between startups and larger pharma companies to develop new products.

How can animal models be best used to study the human microbiota, and what are the specific challenges in using animal models for the development of microbiome-based therapeutics?  Germ-free mice, which are demonstrably free of microbes throughout their lifetime, are uniquely valuable to study the interaction between the host and its microbiota, says Chris Dowdy, who works in Charles River’s Genetically Engineered Models and Services. But generating and maintaining the biosecurity of the animal’s microenvironment is a huge challenge.  In this recent article in Bioscience, Dowdy explains how recent advances in detection and analysis technologies, such as next generation sequencing (NGS), are helping us to utilize germ-free mice more effectively by shedding light on what organisms are present in germ-free mice, and how those populations are altered in disease. You can read the entire article here. And if you are interesting in reaching more about germ-free mice and their role in studying the microbiome, check out our video blog filmed last summer at the Charles River Short Course.