“Intestinal Microflora” as Health Indicator, A National-level Research Project by Chula Doctors in Response to Problems of an Aging Society

Chula’s Faculty of Medicine pioneers Thailand’s first research work that studies “Intestinal Microflora Microbiome of the Aged” which gathers basic information at the national level to unlock the relationship between the wellness of the aged and intestinal microflora that can predict risks of diseases and health and the population’s wellbeing.

Modern medical research indicates that the balance between good microbes living in the human body has an effect on our health and how prone we are to diseases.   Several countries that are becoming a fully aged society have therefore determined ways for caring for the aged to ensure wellness and longevity without being a burden to public health and that they be able to continue to serve as a driving force in society.    

Thailand has not, however, had such information or studies on this topic.  The Faculty of Medicine, Chulalongkorn University has therefore initiated the Intestinal Microflora Microbiome of the Agedresearch project.    

Nano-Biomedical Science Specialist
Assistant Professor Dr. Amornpun Sereemaspun, M.D.

Assistant Professor Dr. Amornpun Sereemaspun, M.D. Head of the Specialized Center for NanoBiomedical Science, Faculty of Medicine, Chulalongkorn University, a member of the research team explains that “This is the first time that this particular subject has been seriously studied in Thailand.  It has also carried out a significant number of health and medical check-ups of the aged, all of whom are volunteers.  This has enabled us to detect crucial basic information to determine whether Thais in various regions of the country have similar or different microflora microbiomes.  The results can be used in future studies related to geriatric wellness, and control of gene manifestation.  It is also hoped that we will identify molecular markers that will help with the diagnosis and prediction of the risk of disease and the overall health of the Thai citizenry as well. 

Intestinal Microflora Microbiome of the Aged Nano-Biomedical Science Research Team
Professor Suttipong Wacharasindhu, M.D. former Dean of the Faculty of Medicine Chulalongkorn University, /
Associate Professor Dr. Kanitha Patarakul, M.D. Head of the Department of Microbiology, Faculty of Medicine, Chulalongkorn University/
Dr. Sarocha Cherdchom Project Researcher for the “Intestinal Microflora Microbiome of the Aged” research project.

The research project has been funded by the National Research Council of Thailand.  The research team comprises Professor Suttipong Wacharasindhu, M.D. former Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, Chulalongkorn University, / Associate Professor Dr. Kanitha Patarakul, M.D. Head of the Department of Microbiology, Faculty of Medicine, Chulalongkorn University/ Dr. Sarocha Cherdchom, Project Researcher. 

Intestinal Microflora and our health

According to Assistant Professor Dr. Amornpun Sereemaspun, M.D., microbes are minute organisms such as bacteria, fungi, or viruses that can be found in natural surroundings such as soil, water, or the human body.  Microbes can be useful as well as harmful.  Useful microbes make us strong and healthy.  They also allow you to live longer since microbes enable the body to function normally while building mechanisms that control the burning of energy as well as the quantity and diversity of bacteria in our bodies.  They can also help to produce certain chemicals that help respond to our immune system thus enabling the nervous system and endocrines to improve their production of hormones.   

 “If there is a good amount of microbes in your intestines, you will be healthy and you will develop better immunity against various diseases.  When germs enter the body the good bacteria will help expunge the bad which lessens the opportunities for contracting diseases or reduces their severity.  If the body has a small number of good bacteria or if they are bad, it will lack antibodies and will easily fall sick and the illness could be severe and prolonged.” 

Dr. Amornpun further mentioned in his explanation that gut microbes change with age.  Those in their youth or healthy adults have a large number of good bacteria but as they become older the numbers start to dwindle which means that the opportunity for contracting diseases increases as well.   

A study on intestinal microflora microbiome among the aged

Dr. Amornpun says that the research project he has undertaken aims to study the intestinal microflora microbiome that concerns the aged in two ways.  First, to study the microflora microbiome in the intestines of healthy older persons to determine whether they are different from older persons with non-communicable diseases.  This is to find out whether those older persons with good bacteria are healthier and physically stronger.  On the other hand, if the bacteria is bad, is it a factor that makes them easier to get sick?    

Secondly, this research examines the external factors that might have an impact on the intestinal microflora microbiome in the aged for example domicile, climate as well as the diet of those living in various regions –northern, central, southern, or northeastern.  Emphasis is paid to local or native foods and not supplementary foods or those with good bacteria (probiotics).     

According to the doctor, the importance of food and the number of gut bacteria is that “gut bacteria that are derived from “probiotic” foods such as kimchi, fermented beans, yeast, sauerkraut, and pickles, and yogurt, and those that are found in “prebiotic” foods with natural fibers in plants allow the good gut bacteria to thrive while destroying the bad bacteria.    

“We want to find out whether the external factors affect gut bacteria differently or if they have any epigenetic effect which controls the genetic performance in human beings as well.” 

A national research project that aims to recruit elderly volunteers from all regions of the country

This research is a continuous research project conducted over two years from 2021 to 2023.  Dr. Amornpun disclosed that the study is in the process of applying for consideration of ethical research in human beings from the Faculty of Medicine, Chulalongkorn University.   Once this is over, the researchers will need to survey the field in search of those aged 60 and above who are in good health, not suffering from communicable diseases, able to help themselves, and do not have any burdens to be responsible for.  These volunteers must come from the four regions of the country, in the north, the study will take place in Chiang Rai, in the central region in Bangkok, in the south, Phuket, and in the northeast, the selection process is still ongoing.   

“Once the sample group has been found, the research team will be on the field to provide knowledge on the subject as well as to offer a full medical check-up both physical and emotional of the senior volunteers from blood tests, x rays, and DNA tests to stool specimens to find bacteria – all of which have an impact on the health and well- being of the aged.   We expect that the sampling and check-ups in this first phase can be completed within the year after which we shall gather all the data to proceed with the research in the second phase where we will analyze the empirical data related to genetic performance as well as the intestinal microflora microbiome system in the aged.”     

Dr. Amornpun added that this is a national research project that has received collaboration from many agencies such as the Ministry of Interior which helps in the screening and selection of the aged in each region to serve as volunteers for the project, the National Office of Science and Technology Development that helps with the genetic testing of the aged, the Faculty of Science, Chulalongkorn University that helps analyze the microbes in the human body and there has been a research collaboration with the National University of Singapore as well.   

A research project that responds to the question of health in an aging society

This research will provide a major examination of Thai people’s health via the aged who are volunteering to take part and Dr. Amornpun expects that we will derive basic information that is crucial in the provision of health care for the aged.   

“Once the research is completed, we will have obtained information representing the Thai elderly who are in good health which can be used in comparing them with the aged in other Asian countries.  We can consider how healthy those elderly Asians are based on their intestinal microflora microbiome systems and genetic performance.  This will enable us to predict their health as well as the risks of diseases among the aged.  We also hope to derive a way to culture good bacteria to determine a separate type of probiotics unique for Thais.  This should help to enable the aged to enjoy a long and healthy life,” he concluded.

Chula is the place to discover one’s true individuality and the years I spent here were most enjoyable.

Rossukhon Kongket Alumni, Faculty of Communication Arts, Chulalongkorn University

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