Academic Minute Podcast

Saurabh Chatterjee, University of California, Irvine – How Blue-Green Algae Can Increase Severity of Liver Disease

On University of California, Irvine Week: Climate change has many effects that we may not be aware of.

Saurabh Chatterjee, professor of environmental and occupational health, delves into one.

Dr. Chatterjee is a human physiologist with specialized training in immunology. After completing his PhD in inflammation biology, he pursued his postdoctoral work at NIH’s National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Laboratory of Pharmacology and Toxicology. Later he continued his specialized research in chronic liver disease at Duke University’s division of gastroenterology under the K99 portion of his NIH Pathway to Independence Award. He has made significant contributions to the field of host-microbiome interactions with redox biology, neuroimmune pathology, and gut-brain interactions in pro-inflammatory disease processes, including Gulf War illness, chronic multi-symptom illnesses and brain manifestations of liver diseases, drug discovery, and gut-brain directed therapeutics. In addition to his UCI appointments, he is a research health scientist with Department of Veterans Affairs at the Long Beach VA Medical Center.

How Blue-Green Algae Can Increase Severity of Liver Disease

Chronic liver disease such as nonalcoholic fatty liver has reached pandemic proportions

In parallel, It is no surprise that climate change is affecting all aspects of our lives. In coastal areas and inlands alike we are seeing damaging algal blooms become more common. These blooms not only affect the local ecosystem but are now discovered to have very damaging effects on our health.

Cyanobacteria, commonly known as ‘blue-green algae’, are photosynthetic organisms that grow excessively under climate change-related stressors like ocean warming and pollution. This growth phenomenon is known as harmful algal blooms. Exposure to environmental factors like these algal blooms can have adverse effects on the body.

Our gut microbiome is home to more than 100 trillion bacteria that all play a role in our metabolism, immunity, physiology, and nutrition. To further understand how these cyanobacteria affect our microbiome, my team and I used mouse models, often with mice that are humanized to analyze the effects of oral exposure from these harmful algal blooms on the gut bacteria environment.

We found an increase in opportunistic pathogens with a decrease in beneficial bacterial populations in the gut when exposed to cyanobacteria. This imbalance disrupts intestinal stability and is the likely drive to a greater risk of disease. Some of these diseases include irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and inflammation of the liver that are all connected to severity of chronic liver disease.

With the results of this study, we are now able to understand and analyze how susceptible populations such as children, elderly, and those with a metabolic disease and can intervene to protect themselves when interacting with contaminated bodies of water.

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