While the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic have been devastating, it has also served as a key milestone on the road to understand the human microbiome and how it affects our health.
Since the early 2000s, research efforts aiming to understand the composition and functional significance of the human microbiome have been increasing, allowing us to have a much clearer insight into how microbes can either support or challenge our health. The pandemic has given a unique opportunity to further explore links and interconnections and discover new areas.
In the last year, several studies have been launched to explore the role of the human microbiome as a risk factor and its function as a biomarker for COVID-19 severity. We are all aware of underlying health conditions and other aspects that could exacerbate disease severity, and initial results from these studies have shown that microbiome dysbiosis is indeed associated with co-morbidities, such as obesity or diabetes.
Data have also shown that microbiome samples are ideal for highly accurate predictions of COVID-19 severity and mortality. Oral and stool microbiome samples served as best for such predictions, having found that the presence of selected bacteria, such as Enterococcus faecalis, an intestinal bacterium in the gut, or the oral microbe, Porphyromonas endodontalis could lead to increased severity risk. In addition, the composition of the lung microbiome was seen to change during the infection, leading to weakened lung resilience, which in turn could be used to predict acute respiratory failure and potentially mortality.
Such trial data could indicate that microbiome profiling of COVID patients could be important for understanding the short-term impacts of the infection. Additionally, as we learn more about long COVID, microbiome profiling could be helpful for identifying risk in individuals for resilient long-term impacts.
Establishing a correlation between a patient’s microbiome profile and the impact of COVID-19 could also provide a promising starting point for potential treatment. In addition to managing the viral infection, additional inventions targeting microbiome imbalances may be important in reducing progression towards severe complications, and initiate the healing process. Today, there are several microbiome-based therapeutics, including prebiotics and probiotics, that are now being evaluated for their potential to protect against future outbreaks.
The ongoing pandemic has caused significant disruption in many aspects, but it has also given the microbiome community an unprecedented opportunity to further essential research. These recent findings underpin the notion to widen the research around the microbiome, to gather more evidence on how crucial it is for our immune health. We shouldn’t lose the current momentum but it is important to keep up the wide ranging support even after the pandemic is [somewhat] under control.
If you would like to learn more about how the pandemic helped scientists unveil new links with the microbiome and how it impacted this research area, you may access the full report “The COVID-19 Pandemic and The Human Microbiome”, available on request at [email protected]