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How To Read a Microbiome Study Like a Scientist 53

bmahersciwriter (2955569) writes Scientific reports have increasingly linked the bacteria in your gut to health and maladies, often making wild-sounding claims. Did you hear about the mice who were given fecal transplants from skinny humans and totally got skinny! Well, some of the more gut-busting results might not be as solid as they seem. Epidemiologist Bill Hanage offers five critical questions to ask when confronted by the latest microbiome research.
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How To Read a Microbiome Study Like a Scientist

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  • microblome?
    • It's a specific environment that hosts multiple species that are evolved to niches exclusively dependent on that environment, but the locality of conditions is so small as to be considered a part of another "bigger" biome.

      Human intestines, small tidal pools, fig trees are some common examples.

      You spelled it microbLome, which I assume is a mistake on your part since the summary doesn't.

  • by gurps_npc ( 621217 ) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @01:44PM (#47713733) Homepage
    I can't become skinny by eating a skinny person's fecal matter?

    I am going to have to insist on a refund!

    Stop laughing, I'm serious!

    • by geekoid ( 135745 )

      Sure you can. You'll get ill and then loose weight from the illness.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        You might even be able to lose the weight transitively. Watch 2 girls 1 cup, which is simply a documentary on fecal transplant; then see if you lose weight from the resulting vomiting.

    • Are they skinny because they have a tapeworm? If so, it really should work.
      • Most doctors do not believe that tapeworms cause you to lose weight - at least not until you surgically remove them.

        Tapeworms eat your nutrients, but they don't make the matter vanish. The tapeworm grows by X ounces for every X ounce you 'lose'.

        They do however, cause multiple health issues. (Unlike certain other parasites that some believe trigger helpful immune responses).

      • by Thud457 ( 234763 )
        "fecal transplant" is a concept I could have quite happily gone to my grave without learning. Thank you Dr. Gregory House.
  • by jstave ( 734089 ) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @01:59PM (#47713855)
    Those 5 questions should be asked of pretty much every scientific study done, no matter what the field
    • by jfengel ( 409917 )

      Yep, came here to say that. And since effectively every daily news story on any science subject fails to answer any of them, it would be a pretty good heuristic to simply ignore all of them.

      Newspapers and TV news are designed to sell news today, and to sell you news again tomorrow. Science doesn't turn out news on a daily basis like that. Important results take a very long time from first inkling to confirmation. You won't be able to act on that news today at any rate. Wait until the news comes out in a sou

    • by 0bject ( 758316 )
      :s/scientific study done/religion/g
    • by nbauman ( 624611 )

      Those 5 questions should be asked of pretty much every scientific study done, no matter what the field

      That's the way to write a good science story. Whatever the story is about, you explain the basic questions that the reader should ask.

      I despair about ever having people know the difference between association and causation. Nevertheless, it's worth repeating.

      Gary Schwitzer's web site http://www.healthnewsreview.or... [] has more detail http://www.healthnewsreview.or... []

  • by nbauman ( 624611 ) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @02:07PM (#47713895) Homepage Journal

    There was an article this week in the New England Journal of Medicine about a guy who tried a home fecal transplant, and wound up in the hospital. He gave himself cytomegalovirus, with very bad gastrointestinal symptoms.

    He had a 7-year history of ulcerative colitis. The doctors made recommendations but he declined many of them. Instead, he gave himself a "home brew" fecal microbiota transplant. He used stool from his wife and 10-month-old child. Some people think that stool from children is more "pristine" than stool from adults, and doesn't need testing for infectious disease. Actually, children are a bad source of stool, because they get frequent viral infections, especially if they attend day care.

    He finally started following doctors' recommendations and the ulcerative colitis and cytomegalovirus cleared up after a couple of weeks.

    Fecal microbiota transplant actually works well for Clostridium difficile, with more than 90% effectiveness, which is great since C. difficile can be fatal and is often antibiotic-resistant. However, in the few studies with ulcerative colitis it didn't work too well and sometimes made it worse.

    The article found two other cases of people who got infections from fecal transplant. []

    case records of the massachusetts general hospital
    Case 25-2014 — A 37-Year-Old Man with Ulcerative Colitis and Bloody Diarrhea
    Elizabeth L. Hohmann, M.D., Ashwin N. Ananthakrishnan, M.D., M.P.H., and Vikram Deshpande, M.D.
    N Engl J Med 2014; 371:668-675
    August 14, 2014DOI: 10.1056/NEJMcpc1400842

    A 37-year-old man with ulcerative colitis was admitted to the hospital because of abdominal cramping, diarrhea, hematochezia, fever to a peak temperature of 38.8C, and drenching night sweats. Several weeks earlier, he had performed home fecal transplantation.

    • Brings new meaning to the phrase "eat shit and die".

    • by Guppy ( 12314 )

      While the clinical picture and timing suggests the possibility, it's far from certain that this was a primary infection stemming from his home fecal transplant. I would have liked to see an analysis of anti-CMV IgM titers, although in this case it's also possible that his case was recognized too long afterwards to determine whether or not it was an actual primary infection.

  • Dammit I've been taking rat poop ever since that study was released? Are you telling me now I did all that for nothing? I wish you'd make up your minds!

  • Those questions should be asked of asked of all health claims including the benefits of vitamin C, fish oil, anti oxidants, and crystal therapy. It's amazing the amount of crap people believe where the evidence is either insufficient or the research flawed.
    • by crmarvin42 ( 652893 ) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @02:32PM (#47714105)
      The really frustrating part is when people who will rant against drug companies and a supposed lack of testing (which could not be further from the truth) will in the same breath rave about the latest dietary supplement (for which no testing is actually required, and over which the FDA has little legal oversight).

      The food supplements industry is largely unregulated in the US due to an impressive mis-information campaign back in the 1980's which resulted in a special section of the regulations for dietary supplements. Animal feed is more tightly regulated than feed supplements. Feed additives have to prove, to the satisfaction of the FDA, that they are effective for a specific purpose. No similar requirement exists for dietary supplements.
      • by jfengel ( 409917 )

        The Faustian bargain there is that they're not supposed to be expressing any specific purposes. If you're categorizing your product as a "supplement" you have to avoid making specific health claims. It generally says so, right on the package, via the incantation "This statement has not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease".

        Generally in very, very tiny print. In much larger print, they'll hint strongly that it's good for something (often, so

      • A friend of mine, who worked for the FDA, insisted on taking any herbal stuff as teas. She said that was somewhat regulated, while a pill claiming to be a herbal dietary supplement could contain pretty much anything.

        • Probably because herbal tea is food and therefore falls under the more comprehensive oversight and rules that cover all foods. She is correct that dietary supplements can contain pretty much anything.

This process can check if this value is zero, and if it is, it does something child-like. -- Forbes Burkowski, CS 454, University of Washington