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On 'Sound Medicine': The microbiome, bacteria in the human body, and fecal transplants

  • Aug. 28, 2013

INDIANAPOLIS -- The award-winning “Sound Medicine” announces its program for Sept. 1, which focuses on the microbes that join human genes to make up the human microbiome and how they affect our day-to-day lives, and how fecal transplants can help.

How does bacteria affect our bodies? Food and environmental author Michael Pollan is a superorganism. He doesn’t have special powers, but he does possess communities of microbes living all over his body. In his New York Times Magazine article, "Say Hello to the 100 Trillion Bacteria That Make up Your Microbiome," Pollan explains that all of us are superorganisms because of the colonies of bacteria living inside and on our bodies. According to Pollan, our bodies contain a community of microbes as unique as our own fingerprint. There are microbe communities in your large intestine, on your skin and in your mouth. Pollan had samples of all microbes taken from his skin, mouth and fecal matter from the large intestine, and he got some surprising results.

What is the microbiome and how does it help us? Last year, researchers funded by the National Institutes of Health were able to map out the entirety of the human body’s microbes. This so-called microbiome consists of 100 trillion microbes and 8 million microbial genes that we acquire after birth. Human cells are outnumbered by bacterial, viral and other cells by a ratio of 10 to 1. George Weinstock, Ph.D., professor of genetics and professor of molecular microbiology at Washington University in St. Louis, shares the pathology behind why microbes can sometimes make us sick but also how they protect us and provide vital functions such as helping us absorb nutrients. He also talks about how understanding the microbiome may help us develop better therapies that work with it to improve our health.

Can feces provide a health benefit? David Crabb, M.D., talks with Lawrence Brandt, M.D., professor of medicine and surgery at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, about the ancient practice of using bacteria from transplanted intestinal microbiota to colonize the large intestine and replace damaged and/or inadequate bacteria already there -- and how it is returning as a medical therapy for treating c. difficile colitis and other diseases. Studies have shown fecal transplantation works in nine out of 10 patients; but it has not undergone clinical trials in the U.S. It is more widely accepted in Europe and Australia.

Are “food deserts” present in your community? “Food deserts” are typically in low-income areas and are characterized by the unattainability of healthy foods. Gus Schumacher, former U.S. undersecretary of agriculture, visits "Sound Medicine" to discuss his innovative ideas that contributed to the foundation of Wholesome Wave, a Connecticut-based organization that improves the access and affordability of locally grown produce to traditionally impoverished communities.

 “Sound Medicine” covers controversial ethics topics, breakthrough research studies and the day-to-day application of recent advancements in medicine. It’s also available via podcast and Stitcher Radio for mobile phones and iPads and posts updates on Facebook and Twitter.

Co-produced by the IU School of Medicine and WFYI Public Radio (90.1 FM) and underwritten in part by Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, "Sound Medicine" airs on the following Indiana public radio stations: WBSB (Anderson, 89.5 FM), WFIU (Bloomington, 103.7 FM; Columbus, 100.7 FM; Kokomo, 106.1 FM; Terre Haute, 95.1 FM), WNDY (Crawfordsville, 91.3 FM), WVPE (Elkhart/South Bend, 88.1 FM), WNIN (Evansville, 88.3 FM), WBOI (Fort Wayne, 89.1 FM), WFCI (Franklin, 89.5 FM), WBSH (Hagerstown/New Castle, 91.1 FM), WFYI (Indianapolis), WBSW (Marion, 90.9 FM), WBST (Muncie, 92.1 FM), WBSJ (Portland, 91.7 FM), WLPR (Lake County, 89.1 FM) and WBAA (West Lafayette, 101.3 FM).

“Sound Medicine” is also broadcast on these public radio stations across the country: KSKA (Anchorage, Alaska), KTNA (Talkeetna, Alaska), KUHB (Pribilof Islands, Alaska), KUAF (Fayetteville and Fort Smith, Ark.), KIDE (Hoopa Valley, Calif.), KRCC (Colorado Springs, Colo.), KEDM (Monroe, La.), WCMU (Mount Pleasant, Mich.), WCNY and WRVO-1 (Syracuse, N.Y.), KMHA (Four Bears, N.D.), WYSU (Youngstown, Ohio), KPOV (Bend, Ore.) and KEOS (College Station, Texas).

Please check local listings for broadcast dates and times.

Mary Hardin
Sydney Willmann