Hi Brain-Gut Lovers! Today I am introducing a new section of the blog that I am really excited about. Drum roll please…..Da da da daaaaaaa
I Study Poop: Adventures of Scientists on the Front Line
Today we are catching up with Arielle Radin, currently at New York University, and about to head to Tel Aviv University, regarding some of her poop-related love.
Tell us a little about yourself, who are you, what stage of your career are you in, where are you studying/working?
Hi fellow poop lovers, my name is Arielle Radin and I manage translational research projects aimed at evaluating the role of the gut microbiome on human health and disease. Officially, I am a Research Coordinator within the Department of Medicine at the NYU Langone School of Medicine. Since my time at NYU, I have worked for a couple of different researchers (Dr. Lea Ann Chen, Dr. Lama Nazzal, Dr. Martin Blaser) who contribute to a large body of microbiome research conducted by the Blaser Lab, headed by Dr. Martin Blaser. Right now, I focus on studying the role of microbes in Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD, comprising Crohn’s and colitis) pathophysiology and treatment efficacy. While my work has a strong microbiology emphasis, I received my BA is psychology at Columbia University in 2013 and I have just applied to PhD programs in Health Psychology with the goal of exploring the effects of chronic inflammation on cognitive functioning.
How did you get interested in the brain-gut axis or microbiome?
To be honest, until my current position at NYU, I had never even heard of the “microbiome,” and I just recently started making the unlikely connection between my interests in cognitive neuroscience and my glamorous work collecting poop. Throughout my education in psychology, I had always been drawn to cognitive neuroscience methodologies (EEG, fMRI) because they provided objective measures for the psychological concepts I found to be fascinating (mind wandering, episodic memory, executive functioning, etc.). For instance, there is a specific electrophysiological signature of attention (the P300 event-related potential) that provides a clean, stimulus-locked measure for attentional processes. I am finding that I am drawn to my work now for similar reasons – by using biosamples (stool, blood, saliva, urine, tissue biopsies… you name it, I’ve collected it!) we are able to provide very clear and objective measures to study observed differences in health between individuals and within-subject differences before and after treatments. I want to apply the methodologies I have learned in biosample collection, processing, storage, and analysis to studying biological influences on psychological functioning. Even in my current work, I notice the clear scientific neglect in studying the interconnected nature between our psychological and biological processes and the study of the brain-gut axis aims to tackle one facet of this dynamic relationship. The field is relatively new, therefore, I aim to conduct doctoral work in psychoneuroimmunology and then apply this training to brain-gut axis in my postdoc work.
How long have you been working in this field?
I have been working in microbiome research for the past 2.5 years (time flies when you’re having fun!).
Tell us about your research
My work in microbiome research has spanned various diseases, microbes, and ages. I have been involved in projects evaluating the impact of early childhood antibiotics on the maturation of the gut microbiome (Bokulich et al. 2016), the effects of H. pylori and its subsequent eradication on metabolism (manuscript in preparation), the influence of C. difficile and FMT on fecal bile acid composition (poster presented at ACG conference, 2016), and the influence of Oxalobacter on kidney stone formation. But for the most part, my work has focused on the role of the microbiome in Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). We know that microbes play a role in IBD-related intestinal inflammation (Grigoryan et al. 2015) but to what extent, we are unsure. We are trying to answer this question through translational methodologies, such as humanizing IL10-/- germ-free mice with inocula prepared from IBD patient stool samples (Chen et al. 2016), as well as longitudinal observational studies, such as following multi-generational families with a strong genetic risk for developing IBD. We are finding that there is a relationship between baseline microbial composition and treatment response, which is exciting because if we are able to identify certain beneficial microbes for this patient population, we might be able to enhance current treatments or even identify alternative natural therapies. My favorite part about my current work is the hope of harnessing the power of the microbiome to provide clinical benefit to patients suffering from this chronic immune-mediated disease. While my current work does not evaluate the role of the microbiome in psychological functioning, I am excited to take what I have learned at NYU and apply it to psychological research.
Who are some researchers/research papers that you really respect in the field – why?
To name a few:
Martin Blaser has pioneered modern thought on the role of the microbiome – recognizing the clear adaptive benefit to coevolving with specific microbes throughout human history. I respect how he tirelessly tries to bring his findings from the lab to the public through writing books, chairing a presidential advisory committee on antibiotic resistance, and contributing to museum exhibitions (Museum of Natural History, Secret World Inside You). I hope to make my research accessible to the public as well, through blogging (like you, Bridget!) and consulting for biotech companies.
Rob Knight is another huge name in this field for several reasons, my favorite of which is his recognition that scientists like us need a way to visualize and analyze microbial composition and relative abundance in an intuitive way. Thankfully, he and his colleagues created qiime, which allows for seamless analysis and data visualization. Even a psychologist with little to no microbiology background is able to understand and use qiime output. I think scientists are responsible for developing and optimizing data analysis tools, and sharing them with each other, in order to enhance our collective effort.
Maria Gloria Dominguez-Bello is studying and using the vaginal microbiome in a way no other scientists are. Listen to this, it’s pretty crazy. She and my colleagues are enrolling pregnant women who are scheduled for clinically indicated caesarean sections, inserting sterile gauze into their vagina prior to delivery, and then swabbing the newborn baby with the microbial-rich gauze just seconds after delivery. WHY?! Because, for the most part, we agree that the womb is sterile, making delivery through the vaginal canal the first inoculation of microbes. Babies born via c-section, however, miss out on this essential dose of good bacteria (that are selected for throughout pregnancy) and are first introduced to microbes living in communities on the skin. These babies are at a greater risk for asthma and obesity later in life. If a simple swab of vaginal bacteria can help these babies develop immune systems like their naturally-born counterparts, we might be able to avoid the unintentional consequences of c-section! Her work is an example of how microbiome research just makes sense… and has direct application to our everyday lives. Since I have been studying the microbiome, I have approached my usage of antibiotics differently, introduced an insane amount of probiotic foods and beverages into my diet, and have completely changed my views on how I want to give birth and breastfeed one day (one day very far off from now!).
What is next for you?
Up next for me? While parting with the Blaser Lab is such sweet sorrow (I have grown attached to my extensive sample collection, patient population, and all the other poop enthusiasts I work with!), I am leaving at the end of the year to join the Neuro-Immunology Lab at Tel Aviv University for 5 months. Dr. Shamgar Ben-Eliyahu is a neuroscientist whose research is within the field of psychoneuroimmunology – since I want to study the effects of inflammation on cognitive functioning, training under Dr. Ben-Eliyahu will provide an invaluable opportunity to gain wet lab techniques that directly apply to my proposed doctoral research. I will be returning stateside in August with the hopes of starting my PhD in Health Psychology. I have applied to a couple of different places, and I will most likely end up in Southern California, Chicago, Nashville, or Miami. Stay tuned! I hope to marry my love of the microbiome and my doctoral research in psychoneuroimmunology in brain-gut axis postdoctoral work!
What weird and wonderful things have you had to deal with since working in the brain-gut world?
You have no idea how often you use the word “shit” until it becomes way too literal… I think my favorite story would be the time that one of my patient participants was unable to collect a baseline stool sample prior to his Remicade infusion (a common treatment for individuals with inflammatory diseases). It was at the beginning of my time at NYU so I had to be in one of those silly mandatory institutional fire safety trainings so I had already arranged with the reluctant nurses at the infusion center to hold onto his sample until I could come by and get it at the end of the day. In the middle of going over fire exits near my office, I received a text from the patient that he was unable to produce last minute and was at the infusion center, not knowing what to do. I stepped out of the auditorium to give him a call (if we didn’t get a sample prior to administering the infusion, we would lose the crucial timepoint, and essentially the entire set of samples from this subject). I asked him if he had the kit with him (which I make for all of our participants, including a toilet hat to go to the bathroom in, a tube to collect the sample into, gloves, and a lunchbox with ice packs), and he did – except for the toilet hat… This was the point in my microbiome career that I asked a patient to literally shit into his gloved hand in the name of science. Even though the infusion nurses were completely appalled, my patient bravely produced a sample before his infusion. Now THAT is dedication. My other favorite stories are a result of the family study I manage. I orchestrate an on-going 22 person, cross-country, stool sampling every 3 months for a multigenerational family with a strong genetic risk for Crohn’s disease. Figuring out how to safely ship stool from San Francisco and DC to NYC has resulted in my office becoming a FedEx shipping warehouse every 3 months. I recently identified another family with several affected members in Long Island and held an informational session about our study at one of their homes on election night. My colleague and I took the LIRR after work to a place we had never been, armed with toilet hats, tubes, consent forms, and surveys. One of the moms of the family, whom I had never met, picked us up at the train station and took us to her home where we ate Chinese food with the entire family while I explained why and how they should collect stool samples for our study. Families that shit together, stick together!
Is there anything else you would like to tell us? How can people get involved in your studies?
We are ALWAYS looking for healthy controls to provide samples for our studies. If you would like to participate in microbiome research and potentially get your microbiome sequenced, please reach out to me and we can see about getting you involved! Also, if you or anyone you know has Crohn’s or colitis and is interested in learning more about our work, please shoot me an email. Also, if you are an aspiring pre-med or pre-phd and would like to gain some hands-on translational research experience, I could always use help and would love to chat/share my experiences. And finally, if you are a psychology student who wants to conduct research with clinical application but you’re confused because you are interested in more than ‘traditional’ psychopathology, do not fear! There is an entire world of Health Psychology that I wish I had known about years ago that you can get involved with! If you want to learn more about programs available and the application process for them, shoot me an email.
connect with arielle
Personal Website: ArielleRadin.com
Until next time, gut-brain lovers…