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ACS News Service Weekly PressPac: Wed Jul 11 16:42:03 EDT 2012

Toward new drugs for the human and non-human cells in people

Amid the growing recognition that only a small fraction of the cells and genes in a typical human being are human, scientists are suggesting a revolutionary approach to developing new medicines and treatments to target both the human and non-human components of people. That’s the topic of an article, which reviews work relating to this topic from almost 100 studies, in ACS’ Journal of Proteome Research.

Liping Zhao, Jeremy K. Nicholson and colleagues explain that human beings have been called “superorganisms” because their bodies contain 10 percent human cells and 90 percent microbes that live mainly in the intestines. “Super” in that sense means “above and beyond.” Scientists thus are viewing people as vast ecosystems in which human, bacterial, fungal and other cells interact with each another. Microbes, for instance, release substances that determine whether human genes turn on or off and influence the immune system’s defenses against disease. And populations of microbes in the body change with changes in diet, medications and other factors.

“This superorganism view of the human body provides a complete new systems concept for managing human health at the clinically relevant whole body level,” say the authors. They term it “one of the most significant paradigm shifts in modern medicine.” The article describes how this revolutionary change is fostering emergence of an approach called “functional metagenomics” for developing new medicines. It opens the possibility of sustaining health and treating disease with medicines and other substances that target non-human cells in the body. The article notes that many substances in traditional Chinese medicines may work in that way.

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Credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture