FUNCTIONAL FOODWIRE, June 10, 2002: While Canada has lagged behind Europe in probiotic research, things are changing, thanks to a $1.8M grant from the Ontario government's Research and Development Challenge Fund.
Probiotics are the so-called good bacteria that reside in the gastrointestinal tract and promote immune function. Fermented and cultured foods such as yogurt that contain live, beneficial bacteria (e.g., Lactobacillus acidophilus) are also referred to as "probiotic."
Picking up the research slack is the new Canadian Research and Development Centre for Probiotics that has been established at the Lawson Health Research Institute, London, Ontario. With members at the University of Guelph and Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, the Centre's 18 scientists will work with communities and industry partners. The vision is to create an internationally recognized probiotic research facility that fosters the pursuit of excellent basic, discovery, developmental and translational research leading to tangible benefits for humans and animals. The Centre's primary focus is to undertake research on lactobacilli and bifidobacteria. This includes studies in the areas of microbial ecology, proteomics, microbial genetics, biofilm studies, cell-signaling, immunology and population health. Efforts will include:
- Clinical trials using probiotics and prebiotics (undigestible food components such as fiber) in various patient populations and controls in a catchment area with over 2 million people. These include concentrations on women's health, premature infants and adults prone to or suffering from intestinal, urinary tract, wound and cardiovascular problems.
- Livestock studies designed to improve the well-being of the animals and replace the use of antibiotics in starter feeds.
- Teaching and training for undergraduate and graduate students, residents and fellows, and consultation for industry personnel and policy makers.
- The production of publications for scientific, clinical, business and government audiences.
The health and economic implications for Canadians are extensive, say participants and supporters, who call probiotics "the next health revolution." "What we have tended to do as a society is say all bacteria are bad and that's not the case," Dr. Gregor Reid, director of the new Centre for Probiotics, said.
"All of us have more bacteria in us than human cells and if it wasn't for these bacteria, we wouldn't be alive." Participating doctors and scientists are eager to explore whether so-called good bacteria can prevent infections responsible for up to 70% of premature births in some groups of women.
The Canadian rate of premature birth is about 7%, a level that for 30 years has withstood nearly everything science has thrown at it.
Financially, pre-term labor comes at a health-care cost of $400 million a year. More important is the human toll - it is among the leading causes of newborn death and illness.