Archive for category: News & Announcements

Microbial signals may predispose to pre-leukaemic changes

According to a new study in Nature by Meisel and Hinterleitner et al, signals from the gut microbiota may help induce a pre-leukemic state in individuals with genetic predisposition. Mutations, or deficiency in the gene tet methylcytosine dioxygenase 2 (TET2), occur with advancing age and are often present in patients with leukemia. However, only a proportion of individuals with this mutation, or mice that lack TET2, progress to a pre-leukemic state, suggesting that additional environmental factors are needed to drive disease. Using mice that lack the TET2 gene, researchers at the University of Chicago show that increased small intestinal permeability was present in mice that developed pre-leukemic changes. This “leaky gut” allowed the translocation of microbes, normally residing happily in the lumen of the small intestine, to tissues beyond the gut. Increased IL-6, a molecule that promotes inflammation and that is released following systemic bacterial dissemination, was critical for the development of the pre-leukemic state in TET2 deficient mice. However, antibiotic treatment aborted the pre-leukemic changes.Interestingly, once the TET2 deficient mice were derived and bred in germ-free conditions at the Axenic Gnotobiotic Unit in McMaster University, no changes in IL-6 were observed, and the pre-leukemic state failed to develop”, said Dr. Heather Galipeau, research associate in Dr. Verdu’s lab. “Maintaining intestinal barrier function could be critical for preventing a pre-leukemic state in genetically susceptible people, in order to restrict intestinal microbes to the gut. The study opens the way to potential new strategies aimed at strengthening the intestinal barrier or preventing systemic infections to reduce the progression to leukemia in individuals that have a genetic predisposition”, said Dr. Verdu, co-author of the study and Canada Research Chair in Diet, Microbiota and Intestinal Inflammation.

Two Farncombe members receive CIHR funding

We are happy to congratulate two amazing Farncombe researchers who were awarded 5 years of funding from CIHR in the recent announcement. Dr. Lesley MacNeil will study the role of environmental factors in neuronal aging and Dr. Waliul Khan will study  the interactions between serotonin signalling and autophagy in the context of gut inflammation. Excellent work!

Dr. Mike Surette elected to Fellowship in the American Academy of Microbiology

Mike Surette has been elected to Fellowship in the American Academy of Microbiology.  The Academy, the honorific leadership group within the American Society for Microbiology, recognizes excellence, originality, and leadership in the microbiological sciences, and his election to this group is a mark of distinction. 

Mike studies the human microbiome in health and disease conditions such as cystic fibrosis and inflammatory bowel disease. He is an integral part of the Farncombe Institute,  actively collaborating with clinical research and directing the McMaster Metagenomic Facility.  Congratulations Dr. Surette on this honour!

Interview with Dr. Verdu is most viewed video at the GMFH World Summit 2017

As part of our commitment to knowledge dissemination and outreach on topics of GI health and disease, members such as Dr. Elena Verdu and her postdoc Heather Galipeau contribute regularly to Gut Microbiota for Health. GMFH is a website created by the European Society for Neurogastroenterology & Motility (ESNM) with the mission to share knowledge, create teaching materials and organize workshops on topics surrounding the gut microbiota and nutrition. As leader of the nutrition section of the site, Dr. Verdu organizes workshops for nutritionists and dieticians and is often asked to contribute to topic specific videos that appear on the site. One recent video on the topic of food sensitivities reached a wide audience and was the most viewed of all the videos from the GMFH Summit 2017 workshop. This is a great example of the important work that clinical and basic scientists in our Institute do to support good science communication with the public and health practitioners.

Darlene McCann is the new Institute Administrator

darleneWe would like to welcome Darlene McCann as the new Administrator of the Farncombe Family Digestive Health Research Institute. Darlene has worked at McMaster University for over 12 years, first in the office of the Dean & Vice-President, Faculty of Health Sciences, and then in the office of the Associate Dean, Research, FHS. She was the Executive Assistant to Dr. Stephen Collins in his role as ADR for 11 years.

As Administrator of the Farncombe Institute Darlene is responsible for developing, implementing and maintaining the efficient operation of the Institute. She will ensure that the financial and administrative support needs of the Institute are met. Darlene will support the Farncombe Institute Executive Committee and Scientific Advisory Board; the BioPharm Program, the Farncombe GI Noon Rounds and the Research in Progress meetings. Darlene will be the liaison between Institute members and Health Research Services, as well as liaising with Human Resources.

Darlene says that she is looking forward to the challenges this new position will bring and to working with such a diverse group of people. Although she has only been with the Farncombe Institute since July, she already feels very welcomed here.

Ines Pinto Sanchez receives Nutrition Support Clinician certification

Maria Ines Pinto Sanchez has recently been awarded certification as a Certified Nutrition Support Clinician (CNSC) by the National Board of Nutrition Support Certification (NBNSC). She has successfully completed a comprehensive written examination on nutrition support. Maria joins over 47,000 others worldwide who have validataed their knowledge base in nutrition support and are currently certified in nutrition support.

The NBNSC was established by the American Society for Parenteral & Enteral Nutrition (ASPEN) in 1984 to administer certification programs in specialized nutrition support. ASPEN is a multidisciplinary professional organization dedicated to improving nutrition support practice through ecucation, research and clinical excellence.

The development of standards of practice, clinical guidelines and the establishment of the NBNSC are efforts ASPEN has made to enhance delivery of safe and effective nutrition support for the protection of the public.

Congratulations Jun Lu

Congratulations to Jun Lu who has provided 20 years of service to the University and to the GI Research Group. Thank you from all of us.

Congratulations to Miriam Bermudez Brito for her MITACS PDF award

Dr. Miriam Bermudez-Brito is post doctoral fellow with Dr. Elena Verdu. She obtained her PhD at the University of Granada in Spain and did a first postdoc at UMC Groningen and Top Institute of Food & Nutrition, in the Netherlands. The main focus of her research is to study the role of host-microbial interactions and gut proteolytic/anti-proteolytic balance that may affect development of sensitivity to food antigens and increase susceptibility to intestinal inflammatory conditions such as celiac disease and ulcerative colitis.

At McMaster, and supported by Mitacs Accelerate Program, Miriam will test the role of a probiotic bacterium B. longum NCC 2705 in the metabolism of dietary proteins that can cause dysregulated inflammatory reactions in the gut such as gluten and amylase trypsin inhibitors. Miria’s studies will enhance the mechanistic knowledge and provide a basis for human trials and a rational application of these probiotic strains together with the industrial partner, Nestle Research Center in Switzerland, in the prevention or treatment of food sensitivities.

First study shows tie between probiotic and improved symptoms of depression


Hamilton, ON (May 23, 2017) – Probiotics may relieve symptoms of depression, as well as help gastrointestinal upset, research from McMaster University has found.

In a study published in the medical journal Gastroenterology, researchers of the Farncombe Family Digestive Health Research Institute found that twice as many adults with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) reported improvements from co-existing depression when they took a specific probiotic than adults with IBS who took a placebo.

The study provides further evidence of the microbiota environment in the intestines being in direct communication with the brain said senior author Dr. Premysl Bercik, an associate professor of medicine at McMaster and a gastroenterologist for Hamilton Health Sciences.

“This study shows that consumption of a specific probiotic can improve both gut symptoms and psychological issues in IBS. This opens new avenues not only for the treatment of patients with functional bowel disorders but also for patients with primary psychiatric diseases,” he said.

IBS is the most common gastrointestinal disorder in the world, and is highly prevalent in Canada. It affects the large intestine and patients suffer from abdominal pain and altered bowel habits like diarrhea and constipation. They are also frequently affected by chronic anxiety or depression.

The pilot study involved 44 adults with IBS and mild to moderate anxiety or depression. They were followed for 10 weeks, as half took a daily dose of the probiotic Bifidobacterium longum NCC3001, while the others had a placebo.

At six weeks, 14 of 22, or 64%, of the patients taking the probiotic had decreased depression scores, compared to seven of 22 (or 32%) of patients given placebo.

Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) showed that the improvement in depression scores was associated with changes in multiple brain areas involved in mood control.

“This is the result of a decade long journey – from identifying the probiotic, testing it in preclinical models and investigating the pathways through which the signals from the gut reach the brain,” said Bercik.

“The results of this pilot study are very promising but they have to be confirmed in a future, larger scale trial,” said  Dr. Maria Pinto Sanchez, the first author and a McMaster clinical research fellow.

The study was performed in collaboration with scientists from Nestlé.


If you have been diagnosed with IBS and would like to participate in future studies, please, provide your information bellow and we will contact you:

Clinical Trial Probiotic Belongum in IBS
First and Last Name

Undergraduate Student Awards

A rich research environment here in the Farncombe Institute is fostering exciting research opportunities for undergraduate students. Here we highlight and congratulate a number of students who will join research labs for the summer and beyond.

Christian Bellissimo has just completed his undergrad thesis in Dr. Deb Slaboda‘s lab. He has been awarded an Ontario Graduate Scholarship to start a PhD in the fall working on the impact of maternal obesity on the host and microbe relationships during pregnancy.

christine_chowChristine Chow is a 4th year student in theBiomedical Discovery and Commercialization and has won a Cystic Fibrosis Canada Summer Studentship in the lab of Dr. Michael Surette. Her project is  the characterization of secretion systems in the Streptococcus milleri group.



Carolina Duque will work in the lab of Dr. Elena Verdu. She has been awarded a 2017 CCC-CAG Summer Student Scholarship Award to work on isolation of bacterial strains from the colon of patients with ulcerative colitis and determination of bacterial proteolytic activity.




Richa John is a fourth year student in the Bachelor of Health Science Program. She has been awarded a BHSc (Honours) Program Summer 2017 Research Scholarship also in the Surette lab to study bacterial interactions and small molecules.



Clara Long is a fourth year student Bachelor of Health Science student and has been awarded a BHSc Honours Program Summer 2017 Research Scholarship. She’ll complete work on bacterial fermentation of specific dietary components in the infant gut in the lab of Dr. Jennifer Stearns.




Parsa Mehraban Far is a 3rd year Bachelor of Health Science student at McMaster. He has been awarded an NSERC Undergraduate Scholarship to work in Dr. Wali Khan‘s lab this summer on the interaction of serotonin with PPAR-gamma in antimicrobial peptide production.

Andrea Tench



Joo Yung (Jeff) Park is a fourth year student in the Bachelor of Health Sciences program. He has won a 2017 Ivan Beck Memorial Summer Studentship Award to study the gluten metabolic capacity of bacteria isolated from the duodenum of healthy subjects and patients with celiac disease, with Dr. Elena Verdu.