USF Health and Moffitt explore options for joint microbiome research

USF’s Microbiome Research initiative continues to gain momentum as USF Health and Moffitt Cancer Center faculty met recently to begin exploring how both institutions might best use their collective resources to advance in the emerging, complex field.

A panel of faculty and staff from USF Health and Moffitt Cancer Center discuss infrastructure, equipment and expertise needed to facilitate collaboration and expand microbiome research.

The July 1 Joint Workshop on Microbiomes and Cancer followed USF Health’s first Microbiome Joint Workshop with the University of Florida in May. USF Health and Moffitt scientists and clinicians presented several research topics, ranging from the implications of gut bacteria on colorectal cancer and role of the microbiome in cancer-treatment induced cardiac complications, to microbes as potential biomarkers of cancer treatment outcomes.

Stephen Liggett, MD, associate vice president for research at USF Health, and Thomas Sellers, PhD, director and executive vice president of Moffitt, welcomed workshop participants.

“We hope to take advantage of the brainpower, informatics, facilities and instrumentation between Moffitt and USF Health to move our microbiome research initiative forward in a collaborative and synergistic manner,” Dr. Liggett said.

Thomas Sellers, PhD, director and executive vice president of Moffitt, told participants that one in five cancers is caused by infection. “That just signals how important this (microbiome initiative) can be.”

“This microbiome initiative is an excellent example of how no one institution and no one individual can do the science independently. It takes a village,” said Dr. Sellers, who noted USF and Moffitt’s longstanding history of working together on medical education and cancer biology.

“There’s a lot of strength among the people in this room, some of whom may not have known they were going to be the world’s future microbiome experts. I’m optimistic about this first step in what could be a long and productive collaboration.”

The growth of basic, translational and clinical research centered on microbial populations in environments and hosts is still in its early stages. Just last month, 36 universities identified their institutions as “highly focused” on microbiome studies at the National Microbiome Centers Meeting in Irvine, Calif.

“Most were created over the past two years, and not all focus on the human microbiome,” said Christian Brechot, MD, PhD, associate vice president for international partnerships and innovation, senior associate dean for research in global affairs, and professor of infectious disease and international medicine at the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine. “One characteristic shared by successful centers was that they all started with internal seed grants.”

Source: National Microbiome Centers Meeting, Irvine, CA, June 2019

At the workshop with Moffitt, Dr. Brechot confirmed that nine projects related to USF’s first call for Microbiome Research Awards, are being evaluated (two of the nine focused on cancer). These seed grants will support collaborative research between faculty members from at least two different departments or colleges.

USF Health has a foundation of microbiome research projects headed by individual investigators in medicine, nursing and public health and of supporting infrastructure, including the USF Genomics Program and Omics Hub, the Health Informatics Institute, and core facilities in proteomics and lipidomics. But, Dr. Brechot noted, achieving preeminence in microbiome research requires partnering with other leading institutions, like the University of Florida and Moffitt, to identify potential collaborative pilot projects, build stronger crossdisciplinary teams, and share resources needed to be competitive in attracting external grant funding.

Hua Pan, PhD, assistant professor of cardiovascular sciences at USF Health, is working with Washington University and Moffitt to study whether alterations in the gut microbiome can help predict which patients would be most susceptible to cancer treatment-induced cardiac complications.

A roundtable discussion moderated by Dr. Brechot and Anna Giuliano, PhD, director of Moffitt’s Center for Immunization and Infection Research in Cancer, began addressing the infrastructure, equipment and expertise needed to facilitate collaboration and expand research.

Charles Lockwood, MD, senior vice president for USF Health and MCOM dean, delivered the workshop’s closing remarks.

“Microbiome research is perfect for where we’re headed, because it literally impacts every other area of research,” said Dr. Lockwood, who cited the links between an imbalance in microbial populations (dysbiosis) and Parkinson’s disease, coronary artery disease, and infection-associated preterm births, as just a few examples. “We’ve got to be part of that… and we’re committed to (strategically) resourcing it.”

Anna Giuliano, PhD, director of Moffitt’s Center for Immunization and Infection Research in Cancer, said the challenge is translating complex microbiome research into interventions that will alter the course of disease. “Each cancer is unique… and molecular pathways can vary even within the same cancer.”

-Photos by Freddie Coleman, USF Health Communications and Marketing