Media Advisory

Monday, September 9, 2013

NIH grants expand search for role of microbes in health and disease in adults, infants


People are host to trillions of microbes living on their skin and in the gut, vagina, mouth, nose, lungs, and penis. These microbes live as communities in and on the human body and are known as the human microbiome. For the most part, we peacefully co-exist with these microbes. But sometimes some of these microorganisms such as bacteria can trigger responses that may cause people to develop a disease. To better understand how and why alteration of the normal microbiome at various body sites promotes diseases, the National Institutes of Health will fund three innovative research projects for the next three years.

These projects constitute the second phase of the Human Microbiome Project (HMP), begun in 2007. The first phase of the HMP focused on the composition and genetic potential of the microbial communities of major regions of the body and how these communities differ in health and for various diseases. The second phase will focus on measuring the biochemical activities of these communities, activities which hold the key to how microbes influence the physiology of the human host within which they reside.

Of the three projects, one joint project by research teams between Stanford University and Washington University in St. Louis will examine the microbes in the gut and nose and determine how alteration in certain microorganisms (for example during viral infections) may trigger the development of diseases such as diabetes. They will use several ‘omics’ approaches, including genomics, transcriptomics, and proteomics to follow the dynamic changes in the microbiome and in the host over time. A second joint project will be conducted between research teams at The Broad Institute and Harvard School of Public Health in Cambridge, Mass. Also using ‘omics’ technologies, they will assess the populations and physiological activities of gut microbes in people with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, two chronic inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), in order to advance knowledge of the disease mechanisms. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) will manage these grants.

A third project, conducted by a research team at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, will also use genomics and other ‘omics’ technologies to study bacteria that live in the vagina and assess the roles these bacteria play in health and disease in pregnant women as well as in their babies, particularly for preterm birth. The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD) will manage this grant.

The awards are primarily funded through the NIH Common Fund, which supports high-impact pioneering research across the agency. Other NIH funding comes from NIDDK, the Office of Research on Women’s Health (ORWH), the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS), and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). Other NIH support comes from NICHD, theNational Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), and the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), which coordinates the Human Microbiome Project.


  • Robert W. Karp, Ph.D., project officer NIDDK’s IBD Genetics Consortium
  • Salvatore Sechi, Ph.D., senior advisor for NIDDK’s Proteomics and Systems Biology Program in the Division of Diabetes, Endocrinology, and Metabolic Diseases
  • John Ilekis, Ph.D., health scientist administrator, at NICHD’s Pregnancy and Perinatology Branch
  • Lita M. Proctor, Ph.D., coordinator, Human Microbiome Project at NHGRI’s Division of Genomic Sciences

The NIDDK, a component of NIH, conducts and supports research on diabetes and other endocrine and metabolic diseases; digestive diseases, nutrition and obesity; and kidney, urologic and hematologic diseases. Spanning the full spectrum of medicine and afflicting people of all ages and ethnic groups, these diseases encompass some of the most common, severe and disabling conditions affecting Americans. For more information about the NIDDK and its programs, see

The NICHD sponsors research on development, before and after birth; maternal, child, and family health; reproductive biology and population issues; and medical rehabilitation. For more information, visit the Institute’s website at

The NHGRI, a component of NIH, develops and implements technology to understand, diagnose and treat genomic and genetic diseases. Additional information about NHGRI can be found at its website,

The NIH Common Fund encourages collaboration and supports a series of exceptionally high-impact, trans-NIH programs. Common Fund programs are designed to pursue major opportunities and gaps in biomedical research that no single NIH Institute or Center could tackle alone, but that the agency as a whole can address to make the biggest impact possible on the progress of medical research. The Common Fund's Human Microbiome Project (HMP) aims to characterize the microbial communities found at several different sites on the human body, including nasal passages, oral cavities, skin, gastrointestinal tract, and urogenital tract, and to analyze the role of these microbes in human health and disease. Additional information about the NIH Common Fund and HMP can be found at

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit

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