As the old adage goes: the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Driven by the desire to utilize the second genome in the human body — the human gut microbiome — a team of researchers at Leucine Rich Bio has developed Bug Speaks, an innovative diagnostic tool which uses the microbes residing in human gut to predict susceptibility to over 20 diseases. Based on this data, Bug Speaks also provides nutritional and probiotic recommendations. The brainchild of Kumar Sankaran, CEO, Leucine Rich Bio, and brought into fruition by Prabhath Kamati Manjappa and Debojyoti Dhar, Bug Speaks was developed over the course of 3 years.
A sum of all the microbes residing on and inside the human body constitutes the human microbiome. Their combined genomes make up the human microbiome gene pool. With the appearance of advanced tools of genetic analysis over the last 15 years, the human microbiome has been subjected to extensive analysis linking its status with potential diseasesor clinical symptoms including diabetes, obesity, skin conditions, liver disease, depression, metabolic syndrome, and others.
When the microbes present inside the human body become imbalanced, it is called dysbiosis. Given the influence of gut microbes on host metabolism and disease vulnerability, scientists have continued to focus on developing diagnostic tools to screen, predict, and manage dysbiosis-linked human diseases with higher accuracy. Such tests have been growing across the globe, with the first-ever microbiome screening in the South Asian subcontinent being introduced by Leucine Rich Bio team.
While developing Bug Speaks, the researchers aimed to combine the power of data analytics with DNA sequencing data. Bug Speaks attempts to detect imbalances in the gut microbiome and understand the microbial community using parameters like metabolic activity, gene expression, symbiotic and parasitic activities The test is non-invasive and can find application in the clinical sector in improving quality of life for patients suffering from gastrointestinal diseases, colorectal cancer, depression, diabetes, obesity, and pregnancy-related issues. One can take the test through any of the collaborating institutions.
“Correlations between disease and microbes varies in different racial and ethnic groups. There is little data on microbiomes of different populations,” said Yogesh Shouche, National Center for Microbial Resource, Pune University, expressing concern about the ability of the test to predict meaningful relationships between microbes and diseased conditions in the absence of more population-specific genomics data.
The Bug Speaks team claims to have given due diligence to the lack of data issue. According to Sankaran, “More and more studies continue to be conducted in this area, with increasing correlations being established between the microbiome and certain diseases. Also, Bug Speaks prediction systems have been validated and corrected for the available Indian population data.”
Bug Speaks is currently being utilized in a clinical trial and the the results are expected to be published in 2019. Regarding the academic relevance of this diagnostic test, Niyaz Ahmed, Senior Director, International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh, points out, “Any analysis that involves a complicated academic exercise such as metagenomic screening and prediction requires much trialing before the evolution of a diagnostic level convention.”
Commenting on the issue of academic relevance and setting, Kumar from the Bug Speaks team states, “For research to progress in this field, I feel that the role of microbiome needs to be included in academic education. We hope to collaborate with leading academic labs to ensure that the right science is being delivered. The academia plays a key role in this process, and their validation is paramount.”