We spoke with Dr. Shen, instructor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and the recipient of the AGA Research Foundation’s 2016 Microbiome Junior Investigator Award, to learn about his passion for gut microbiome research.
How would you sum up your research in one sentence?
My research examines the metabolic interactions between the gut microbiota and the mammalian host, with a particular emphasis on amino acid metabolism and nitrogen flux via the bacterial enzyme urease.
What impact do you hope your research will have on patients?
My hope is that by better understanding the biological mechanisms by which the gut microbiota impacts host metabolism, we can modulate its effects to treat a variety of conditions and diseases including hepatic encephalopathy, inborn errors of metabolism, obesity, malnutrition, etc.
What inspired you to focus your research career on the gut microbiome?
My clinical experience as a gastroenterologist inspired my interest in metabolic and nutritional research. When I learned of the impact that the gut microbiota has on host metabolism, it created an entirely different perspective for me in terms of thinking about how to treat metabolic and nutritional disorders. There are tremendous opportunities in modifying our gut microbiota in concert with dietary interventions in order to modulate our metabolism.
What recent publication from your lab best represents your work, if anyone wants to learn more?
The following work examined how the use of a defined bacterial consortium without urease activity can reduce colonic ammonia level upon inoculation into the gut and ameliorate morbidity and mortality in a murine model of liver disease: Shen T.D., Albenberg L.A., Bittinger K., et al, Engineering the gut microbiota to treat hyperammonemia. J Clin Invest. 2015 Jul 1;125(7):2841-50.