Early Life Microbiome Research

Dr Elise Pelzer is examining the early life micro biome and how it affects future health

Dr Elise Pelzer is looking at the impact of the early life microbiome on future health and disease. Symbiotic host-microbe interactions may co-evolve or arise by chance, and may be transient or permanent. Ultimately these host-microbe interactions result in changes in molecular and cellular functions that drive physiological responses in the host that range from subtle to profound.

Dr Pelzer’s work focuses on:

  1. Characterising the microbiome of mothers and babies
  2. Identifying predictive asthma and allergy signatures
  3. Examining probiotic effectiveness

This work is conducted using advanced molecular microbiology techniques.

Characterise the microbiome of mothers and babies

Dr Pelzer is currently examining and describing the microbiome of mothers and babies that are part of the Mater-Queensland Family Cohort.  The human microbiome represents the collection of genes associated with the microbes that reside in and on our bodies.  The potential significance of microbial signatures in low-biomass niches raises questions for reproductive health and disease. Dr Pelzer has recently co-authored a paper entitled Re-assessing microbiomes in the low-biomass reproductive niche

Dr Pelzer will identify microbial community signatures in maternal and fetal samples including the stool and placenta. This initial data collection is part of a planned longitudinal study examining how host-microbe interactions influence future health.

Identify predictive asthma and allergy signatures

Dr Pelzer’s group has been using a multi-omics approach to investigate relationships between the microbiome and gene expression in babies born small for gestational age, and who develop asthma and allergy to determine potential predictive pathology signatures. One in every twelve babies born at term is considered small for gestational age. These babies are at increased risk for lifelong health events including cardiovascular disease. Dr Pelzer is collaborating with researchers at Mater Research who will use the early life microbiome and gene expression data to determine if potential biomarkers can predict adverse health outcomes before infants become symptomatic.

Dr Pelzer is collaborating with researchers at QIMR Berghofer to identify a set of potentially predictive biomarkers for the early diagnosis of childhood allergies and asthma. Allergy and asthma affect one in every ten children in Australia, with allergy most often presenting during the first year of life. Analysis of the microbiome and metabolomic profiles in stool samples may provide targets for future preventative interventions.

Examine probiotic effectiveness

In the age of antimicrobial resistance and The Human Microbiome Project, probiotic supplements have gained traction as supplementary treatment options. However, probiotic efficacy varies by brand and the beneficial effects appear to be lost once patients cease taking the probiotics. Dr Pelzer’s group is currently investigating the ability of probiotics to survive transit through the gastrointestinal tract to better inform clinician and pharmacist prescription of the most effective probiotics for children.

The body’s natural antibacterial defences found in saliva and stomach acid are replicated in in vitro models to determine their effect on probiotics.

Image of upper reproductive tract microbes taken by Christina Theodoropoulos and Elise Pelzer
Microbes in the female upper reproductive tract captured in an image by Christina Theodoropoulos and Elise Pelzer


Use molecular microbiology techniques

Dr Pelzer employs traditional and molecular microbiology techniques including culture, DNA extraction and next generation sequencing of human and bacterial samples to examine host-microbe interactions.

Dr Pelzer has used these techniques to characterise the microbiota of the upper genital tract. Her past work has challenged assumptions that the upper genital tract in females is sterile. The current work on mother-baby dyads builds on this.

These techniques can also identify the bacteria present in archival pathology samples.

Dr Elise Pelzer conducts early life micro biome research as part of the Queensland Perinatal Consortium
Dr Elise Pelzer conducts early life microbiome research as part of the Queensland Perinatal Consortium

Contribute to perinatal research and thought leadership

Dr Elise Pelzer is a member of the Queensland Perinatal Consortium, a multidisciplinary group of clinicians and scientists working in the perinatal field. The collaboration resulted in a special edition supplement in the journal Placenta (Placenta, Vol 54 (2017) 1-130) by members of the group.  Dr Pelzer contributed an article to the supplement: Review: Maternal health and the placental microbiome.

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