Us and our Microbiota
We are inhabited by huge amounts of bacteria, viruses, fungi and other microbes that we call our microbiota. This microbiota assists us in digesting food, in training our immune system to distinguish friend from foe, and in regulating our metabolism. Yet, how is it that most of us live in a peaceful relationship with these invaders and tolerate them when our immune system is build to fight them and trigger inflammation?
When relationships go bad
We know from every Taylor Swift song that relationships don't always go as we've planned. But when our relationship with our microbiota breaks down we don't get heartaches, tissues and ice-cream, but inflammation. Inflammatory bowel diseases are a group of diseases where the body initiates an inflammatory response in the intestine and can't turn it off. Crohn's disease and Ulcerative colitis are two major forms of these diseases affecting many millions worldwide. We are discovering that these diseases could be a result of our relationship with our microbiota going bad.
The Most Interesting Organ in the Body
Our intestine is an amazing organ. It needs to perform as a tube, to carry the food we eat along a long and winding road. On this road the food will break down and the intestine will absorb the nutrients we need from it. In addition, our intestine needs to contain trillions of microbes that help digest this food and prevent them from invading our inner tissues. Somehow, a single layer of epithelial cells, only a millionth of a meter tall, are supposed to block the swarm of bacteria in the intestine from invading us. How do they do it and at the same time maintain a mutualistic relationship with these microbes?
In the Bel lab we use state-of-the-art mouse models, combined with high resolution microscopy and molecular biology to understand how the intestine functions. We focus on two specialized epithelial cells, Paneth and goblet cells, to investigate how the intestine forms a barrier and why this barrier breaks down when inflammatory bowel diseases develop. Our mission is to understand why inflammatory bowel diseases develop and find clever ways to treat them.