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Will microbiome-based solutions replace antibiotics?

Co-founder of AnimalBiome, Holly Ganz, explains how microbiome supplementation can improve pet health

05 September 2019, at 9:00am

What motivated you to establish AnimalBiome?

I am a microbial ecologist who left academia to become an entrepreneur when I founded AnimalBiome in the fall of 2016. My efforts to translate academic research into solutions for animal lovers began when I launched KittyBiome, a citizen science project, while working at UC Davis in 2015. From the KittyBiome project, I found that imbalances in the gut microbiome are common in pets and that there is a pressing need for better approaches to maintain gut health and prevent the development of chronic health conditions. I realised that people are more interested in solutions than diagnostics. And so we developed a “test and treat” approach, where we use microbiome testing to identify whether dietary interventions and/or faecal microbiota transplantation (FMT) would be beneficial for an individual.

Can microbiome-based solutions be used for treatment as well as prevention?

We perform assessments of the bacterial composition of the digestive tract of dogs and cats. This allows us to detect imbalances in the gut microbiome and identifies which bacteria are contributing to this imbalance. By looking at the composition of bacteria in a faecal sample, we can identify whether a digestive condition stems from an issue in the stomach, small intestine or colon. Small imbalances in the microbiome can be improved through dietary interventions, such as adding fibre, reducing carbohydrates and increasing protein content. Personalised nutrition based on microbiome testing has great potential for the prevention of chronic illness. For large imbalances, particularly those that arise as a result of antibiotic exposure and infections by pathogens, an FMT can be used to reintroduce these organisms.

What is the nest step in the development of these techniques?

We are developing a lab-fermented version of an FMT that can be grown in industrial fermenters. This will allow us to provide a safer, more cost-effective alternative to FMT for the veterinary channel.

Can the techniques be targeted at specific diseases?

Microbial cocktails can be developed to target various health conditions, ranging from chronic gastrointestinal illness to chronic kidney disease (through supporting renal function) to skin conditions like atopic dermatitis.

How does the microbiota transplant capsule work?

A faecal microbiota transplant works primarily by the principle of competitive exclusion, where more competitive bacterial species take resources – typically food and space – away from less competitive, opportunistic pathogens that have become over-represented due to a lack of competition.

How long does the process take?

We recommend microbiome testing to determine if the dog or cat would benefit from an FMT. Once we receive the sample, we process it and send a report in about seven business days. In many cases, we recommend dietary shifts that can help to better balance the microbiome. If the capsules are ordered, these are typically shipped within two days.

Will the technique save owners money in terms of treatments for digestive and dermatological conditions?

While it may be cost saving, we prefer to focus on improved well-being, and hopefully preventing and reducing chronic ailments like diarrhoea, vomiting and itchy, inflamed skin. For those with pets that are missing these organisms, many pet parents are able to reduce medication use and increase the different types of foods that they can tolerate.

Could microbiome-based solutions treat conditions that require antibiotics, like respiratory conditions?

We are currently studying whether the FMT capsules can be used to reduce the duration of antibiotic usage. Microbiome-based solutions are also useful for oral health, which has the potential to improve both respiratory conditions and digestive conditions.

Do you think microbiome-based solutions will be able to entirely replace antibiotics in the future?

Microbiome-based solutions such as FMT have great promise to reduce the amount of antibiotic usage. In the future, therapies such as bacteriophages that target specific organisms are very promising for antibiotic replacement.