Until recently, lungs were believed to be sterile, but today we know that they are inhabited by microbes migrating from the mouth. Dr Randi Bertelsen has been awarded an ERC grant to investigate the role played by the oral microbiome in lung disease.
The composition of bacteria in the mouth has a lot to do with lung health, but it could also influence the development of inflammation throughout the whole body. Research has shown that, in addition to asthma, inflammation in the gums increases the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Dr Bertelsen’s hypothesis is that oral microbiome communities dominated by bacteria with strong inflammatory effects, will have a negative effect on the respiratory tract. In this project she will test her hypothesis with in vivo and in vitro experiments to identify whether a specific bacterial composition in saliva samples predicts lung function and respiratory health over time. She will use data and samples from study centres in northern Europe, Spain and Australia, making it possible to compare populations from different geographical areas.
“If we show that improved oral health leads to fewer infections and lung and cardiovascular diseases, we will pave the way to new research in respiratory health and future studies to block bacteria without administering antibiotics. And we know how important it is to reduce the use of antibiotics to prevent the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria” says Dr Bertelsen.
Proving a causal link between the oral microbiome and lung health will also be important from the perspective of public health. Oral health could be a feasible target for intervention programs aimed at preventing respiratory conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, whose prevalence is expected to increase, according to the World Health Organization.
Randi Bertelsen works at the University of Bergen (Norway). She has a MSc in Evolutionary Biology and Ecology and a PhD in Environmental Medicine and Epidemiology. In 2010 she received the Voksentoppen Research Award for her outstanding work in paediatric respiratory medicine and allergology, and in 2014 a young research talent grant from the Research Council of Norway. Her research interests focus on environmental exposure, microbiome, asthma and allergy.