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Spotlight: Tiny Secrets

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Spotlight: Tiny Secrets

Date Published:
Friday, August 12, 2011

Tiny secrets yield big impact on liver disease.

Often, the more we learn about biology, the better we can treat disease — but the more complicated our understanding of disease itself becomes.

You may know that you have trillions of bacteria living inside you, including the hundreds or thousands of species of friendly ones living peacefully in your gut, helping you digest food. But you may not know that the complex demographics — the ecology of it all, so to speak — of the rich and complex mob of organisms might be a major factor in whether or not you are the one-out-of-three people who might develop a major liver disease.

The lab of UNC Charlotte bioinformatics researcher Anthony Fodor recently announced a new finding that shows a strong relationship between complex microbial ecologies in human intestines and the common but serious medical condition known as fatty liver.

While this discovery may ultimately have a major impact on treating an important human disease, it also illustrates the paradox that recent research uncovering the hidden biology of our bodies is actually making the goal of managing human health much more complicated.

Fodor and his lab continue to explore links between the unique characteristics of thriving, complex ecosystems we each have within us and the myriad of diseases that occasionally afflict us. Like the microbes themselves, the possible relationships are both still profoundly mysterious and bewildering in their potential complexity.

It’s a research effort that is just beginning, with enormous questions left to answer. That, of course, makes the scientists very happy — if not the rest of us who long for simple, clear explanations for everything that ails us. Science is getting there, but it’s going to be, well, complicated.

Photo by Anthony D'Onofrio.