Research to Improve Pig Gut Health Offers Potential for Human Health

CANADA - The Canada Research Chair in Microbiology of Nutrigenomics says research in the swine industry aimed at improving the health of pigs by improving the health of beneficial microbes in the gut offers applications for human health, writes Bruce Cochrane.
calendar icon 5 May 2016
clock icon 3 minute read

Swine Innovation Porc has identified research aimed improving gut health as one avenue for reducing the swine industry's dependence on the use of antibiotics.

Healthy bugs are able to outcompete pathogens for nutrients and space and can actually kill or inhibit pathogenic organisms.

Dr Ben Willing, an Assistant Professor with the University of Alberta and Canada Research Chair in Microbiology of Nutrigenomics, says work being done in this area with swine can also be applied to human medicine.

Dr Ben Willing-University of Alberta:

The piglet is really one of the best models for the human infant and so it's really being used in that regard to look at stuff that can't be done in human models or in infants.

We can't start testing these strategies in infant for the reason of ethics but we can start to do them in pigs to be able to understand causality.

For example children that are exposed to antibiotics in early life or infants that are exposed in early life are more likely to develop metabolic disease.

There's lots of epidemiological evidence to say that but what some of the work that my research group is working on and others is to actually show that that's the case.

Using a piglet model, piglets can be treated with antibiotics and we can test these metabolic outcomes, like do they develop diabetes like symptoms or do they develop obesity?

Dr. Willing acknowledges, while there's a lot of excitement about the prospects of promoting a healthy gut and healthy populations of bacteria, we have to recognize there is a lot of work to do to understand which microbes are beneficial and which ones are less so.

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