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Prize Winner Uncovers Microbes’ Role in Tissue Repair

illustration of human microbiome
The new NOSTER Science Microbiome Prize rewards young scientists pursuing innovative research on the microbiome and its impact on human and veterinary health therapies. | Microbiome illustration by NIH/NHGRI

Oliver Harrison is the 2020 winner of the first annual NOSTER & Science Microbiome Prize for his work to illuminate a fundamental but poorly understood form of immunity: how skin microbes interact with the immune system to aid wound healing.

"We believe [our findings] may lead to future therapies for chronic inflammatory disorders, such as atopic dermatitis, psoriasis and inflammatory bowel diseases," said Harrison, assistant member at Benaroya Research Institute.

Harrison's prize-winning essay, "Poised for tissue repair," will be published in the July 10 issue of Science.

"The judges were deeply impressed by the high quality of the essays submitted for the NOSTER Science Microbiome Prize and very encouraged to see a new generation of scientists emerge who are so committed to the field," said Caroline Ash, senior editor at Science.

The immune system protects human health, including by restoring tissue function during infection. To date, however, researchers' grasp of human-microbe immune interactions is limited, resulting largely from models of infection via pathogenic microbes, even as the majority of microbial-immune encounters involve the "good" bacteria in our gut and skin.

Scientists know these commensal microbes promote mammalian immune system health, including by educating the immune system so that it can fight invasive pathogens. But just how the immune T cells involved in this process achieve this — and avoid triggering inflammation as they respond to resident microbes — remains a question.

"During my doctoral training, I studied models of intestinal inflammation and immune regulation, and became intrigued by the emerging field of gut microbiome research," said Harrison. "I was keen to understand how commensal microbes promoted immune system development and function, which is an area of research I think we are only beginning to understand."

Oliver Harrison

This limited understanding prevents advancement of therapies for a variety of disorders. In the U.S., approximately 9.6 million children under the age of 18 suffer from atopic dermatitis, the prevalence of which has increased in children from 8% to about 12% since 1997, according to the National Eczema Association. Approximately 16.5 million U.S. adults have atopic dermatitis, with nearly 40% affected by moderate or severe disease. Inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis affect an estimated 1.3% of U.S. adults as of 2015, up from 0.9% in 1999, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 8 million Americans and some 125 million people worldwide report having psoriasis, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation.

To understand how interactions between commensal microbes and the immune system may influence the onset of chronic inflammation disorders, Harrison and colleagues performed experiments using the common human skin microbe Staphylococcus epidermidis. They discovered that the molecule H2-M3 on the cell surface coordinates CD8+ T cell, or "killer" T cell, tissue repair responses to this microbe. Further experiments showed this T cell activity accelerated wound healing.

"We, like others, hypothesize that perturbations in this symbiotic relationship are likely triggering events for the onset and perpetuation of chronic inflammatory disorders of barrier tissues," wrote Harrison in his essay. "It is only through these basic studies and findings that we, or others, may make in the future that we can hope to co-opt or antagonize these natural immune mechanisms to influence barrier tissue function and promote human health."

Kohey Kitao, Noster Inc. CEO, said scientific research has constantly shown how the microbiome plays a clear, influential role on the host's health.

"We have established a wonderful prize together with Science to prove that microbiome research contributes to the health and the advancement of science for people around the world," said Kitao. "By supporting young researchers with this prize, we — NOSTER — would like to develop this research field further, increase the number of research collaborators, and realize a new therapeutic revolution."

The new NOSTER Science Microbiome Prize rewards young scientists pursuing innovative research on the functional attributes of the microbiota that have potential to contribute to the understanding of human or veterinary health and disease or to guide therapeutic interventions. The Grand Prize winner is awarded $25,000 and the publication of their essay in Science. The winner will also receive a free five-year digital subscription to Science.

2020 Finalists

Mariana X. Byndloss

Mariana X. Byndloss, for her essay "Microbial management." Byndloss received her D.V.M. and a Ph.D. from Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais in Brazil. Her research aims at understanding how inflammation-mediated changes in the metabolism of cells lining the gut could lead to dysfunction and increased risk of infectious gastroenteritis by Salmonella typhimurium, as well as noncommunicable diseases like obesity-associated cardiovascular disease and colon cancer.







Chun-Jun Guo

Chun-Jun (CJ) Guo, for his essay "Modulating microbiome metabolites in vivo." Guo received undergraduate degrees from Fudan University and a Ph.D. from the University of Southern California. His research uses CRISPR-based microbial genetics, state of the art analytical chemistry, and health and diseased mouse models to mechanistically dissect how microbiome-derived genes, pathways, and metabolites affect host biology.