Nicholas Chia, Ph.D., works in the Center for Individualized Medicine Microbiome Program and with surgery researchers as part of a strategic alliance with university partners to combine bioinformatics and ecological and evolutionary theory with medicine.
Many problems in microbiology can be insightfully approached from the viewpoint of systems biology. The interface between evolution and systems biology delivers broader notions of how biological evolution operates on metabolic, protein-protein and regulatory networks. This research expands the understanding of future limits and challenges to treat complex diseases, such as cancer or gastrointestinal disorders.
- Human microbiome research. The human body has more than 10 times as many microbial cells as human cells. Dr. Chia's lab studies how the human body works in conjunction with the trillions of microbial partners to promote health and prevent disease.
- Community metabolic modeling. The body is made up of a large community of human and microbial cells, each metabolizing nutrients and creating byproducts. By modeling the metabolism of these communities, Dr. Chia's lab seeks to understand the interplay between them.
- Colorectal cancer. Dr. Chia focuses on studying how the microbiome influences human health and can be used as both a biomarker and preventive measure for colorectal cancer.
- Collective effects and emergent properties. Dr. Chia studies complex biological systems and how the role of interactions — such as gene transfers and mobile genetic elements, including viruses, transposons and plasmids — can lead to seemingly organized and ordered behaviors in microbial communities.
Significance to patient care
Colorectal cancer is both common and lethal, and it has plausible connections to several microbial agents. If the hypotheses of Dr. Chia and his team are proven correct, identifying microbiomes that cause cancer and finding ways to quantify that risk could be accomplished using a combination of modern computing and sequencing techniques. Manipulating the gut microbiome using antibiotics, probiotics or prebiotics will help attenuate that risk. This would radically change the way colon cancer is treated.