Dr Nicola Fawcett

Research Fellow with the Nuffield Department of Medicine at the University of Oxford

You might have seen the adverts promising ‘good bacteria’.

But are all bacteria simply good or bad? Can good bacteria turn bad? And how does the medication we take alter our bacteria and affect our health?

A new study in Oxford is looking at these questions and we need your help.

Medical research is increasingly looking at the microbiome – the collection of tiny microbes (not just bacteria) that live on and in us.

Some of them are beneficial, others less so, and a number may usually go unnoticed.

My area of research focuses on the gut – and many of us will have had an experience where the balance of the billions of microbes in our stomach was disturbed, with unpleasant results for our health.

So those adverts that promise a quick drink can replace all your good bacteria?

It may not be that simple: each one of us has a unique set of microbes that changes depending on where we’ve been, what we’ve eaten, even on the people and animals living with us.

It also depends on anything we might be taking to fight disease – especially antibiotics.

Antibiotics are designed to kill microbes and they cannot discriminate between the bad ones and the good ones.

Individual microbes can be more vulnerable to certain antibiotics, so while antibiotic treatment clears the infection, it also changes the balance of microbes in our stomach.

At the same time, microbes can develop resistance to antibiotics.

Some studies have shown antibiotics may have long term effects on the gut bacteria, and the effects of the gut bacteria on infections and health may only be seen many years later.

At the moment, we do not know whether this can increase the risk of getting a resistant infection in the future – our study aims to find out.

It is important because we are seeing a rapid increase in antibiotic resistance in the bacteria causing infections.

A report from the UK government estimated a drug-resistant infection is the cause of death in up to 700,000 people a year in the UK.

We are also seeing an increase in resistance in the ‘good’ bacteria which live harmlessly around us and on us.

That is where our volunteers will come in.

We want to identify the microbes present in the guts of people across Oxfordshire.

We can look at the bacteria in the gut by studying poo samples.

Like humans, bacteria have DNA, or genetic material that affects how they grow and behave.

We can extract the DNA from the gut bacteria, and look for DNA that makes them resistant to antibiotics.

This allows us to study resistance in many hundreds of different bacteria, rather than just the few bacteria that we can grow in a laboratory.

We hope this information can help us decide which antibiotics to use more or less of in the future, to keep them effective.

The whole process is painless – we will ask you to fill in a questionnaire.

Taking about 20 – 30 minutes, this will ask about your diet, health and antibiotics you have taken in the past.

It doesn’t matter if you can’t remember or don’t know what antibiotics you’ve had – you are still welcome to volunteer.

You then need to give us a stool sample.

You can do that in hospital, or we can give you a kit to use at home and arrange to collect it from you.

The study will continue until the end of 2016, when we will be able to give you your own gut microbe profile, showing what we found in your gut and how that compares to the overall profile of people in the study.

To find out more, visit amordstudy.wordpress.com, email armord@ndm.ox.ac.uk or call 07599 561848.