1. What is your lab's long-term/big-picture research goal?
My lab investigates how the trillions of microorganisms (the microbiome) in the human or animal intestine affect their host in health and disease. We particularly are interested in the mechanisms the gut microbes and the brain use to communicate with each other through the microbiome-gut-brain axis. This research could lead to new ways of treating depression, anxiety, and other diseases of the nervous system. By its very nature, microbiome research is interdisciplinary. Therefore, we work in teams of scientists with various scientific backgrounds. For example, my colleague Dr. Dolores Vazquez-Sanroman is a co-Investigator on my OCASCR grant exploring the impact of opioid misuse on intestinal stem cells and the gut microbiome. We are utilizing our combined expertise in microbiology, stem cell biology and neuroscience to tackle this project.
My lab investigates the specific sociobiology of gene-by-environment interaction on early life stress and drug use. Early life stress has been linked to epigenetic changes in genes that regulate the stress response, suggesting that these molecular changes may underlie the risk for psychiatric disorders like depression and addiction. In addition to epigenetics, we decided to incorporate gut microbiome analysis in our research. A healthy gut microbiome is known to produce most neurotransmitters found in the brain, modulating brain neurochemistry. It is therefore of interest as a biologically modifiable risk factor resulting from early life trauma. This required establishing collaborations between experts in microbiome and neuroscience research.
2. What is your training/scientific background?
G. Koehler: I am a microbiologist with a M.S. and Ph.D. in Microbiology from the Technical University of Munich, Germany. During my post-doctoral research at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF), I focused on fungal diseases. Subsequently, I continued this work at the University of Würzburg, Germany, and expanded into research on fungal genomics and beneficial bacteria (probiotics) after returning to UCSF for several years. In 2007, I joined the Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology at the OSU Center for Health Sciences as faculty member, where I am now Professor for Microbiology and Interim Chair. At OSU, I have started my interdisciplinary research program on the gut microbiome. I also teach in OSU CHS graduate programs and in the OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine.
D. Vazquez-Sanroman: I am a neuroscientist with an M.S in Biomedical Sciences and a Ph.D. in Psychology from the University James 1st of Castellon, Spain. My work as a graduate fellow mainly focused on studying the effects of cocaine in the anatomy and post-development neurogenetic markers in the cerebellum. As a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Kentucky, I dedicated most of my time to understanding psychostimulant effects on the adolescent brain. In 2016 I was recruited by the OSU Center for Health Sciences, where I established my research program on opioid effects in the adolescent brain-gut axis. At OSU, I have been collaborating with a team of bright scientists with diverse biomedical backgrounds. Part of my work also involved training medical students in concepts related to the origin and functioning of the nervous system.