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TNO Healthy Living aims to contribute to human health and wellbeing through development of novel strategies for prevention of (chronic) diseases, and providing individuals the means to make better and more healthy choices in nutrition and lifestyle. The human microbiome plays a key role in physiology, including immune, metabolic and neuronal processes. Alterations of the microbiome (or dysbiosis) greatly affects our health and long-term disease risk, relating to important elements within TNO’s strategic innovation themes, e.g. Early Life, Prevention, Personalised Health, and Body-Brain.
In my research within the chair of Oral Systems Biology, I aim at unravelling role of the microbiome mouth and respiratory tract in health and disease. Chronic inflammatory diseases of the mouth and respiratory tract impact health of many in society. By using systems biological approaches, I aim to gain insight in pathological processes at the early onset of chronic inflammatory diseases. Moreover, in my research I also aim to identify beneficial symbiotic functions of our microbiome in infection resistance, immune health, gustatory and olfactory perception. This provides fundaments for novel, microbiome-based strategies for the prevention of disease and optimization of health throughout the span of life. Stimulation of healthy biological processes, and thereby prevention of disease is a paradigm shift in the field of oral and respiratory health care, where the current focus is on treatment of disease.
By studying the development of the microbiota of the upper respiratory tract, we were able to show that infants colonized by specific types of bacteria at the age of two months were less vulnerable for respiratory infections, and recovered more quickly upon infection. Also infants that were colonized by these microbial populations had a lower risk for the development of asthma later in life. These findings may provide novel approaches to improve respiratory health in infants.
We have studied interactions between the oral microbiota, oral health appetite and malnutrition in an elderly population. We were able to show that undernutrition results in detrimental changes in the oral microbiome. Furthermore, and to our surprise, we found that impaired microbial production of butyrate in the oral cavity was related to impaired capacity of smell. Loss of smell in elderly is regarded as a hallmark of cognitive decline.
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