Keisha – A Gut Medical Explorer

Keisha – A Gut Medical Explorer


[music playing] Keisha Findley:
So, my name is Keisha Findley, and I’m a post-doctoral research fellow at the National Human Genome
Research Institute at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. Well, I study
fungi and bacteria on skin. We’re covered in them. They’re everywhere in the environment.
They surround us. So, I actually grew up in the Maryland area
in Takoma Park. I had a teacher in high school, a biology teacher, freshman year, and she
was absolutely amazing. I think because of her, I am where I am today, because she made
science fun. She made it something that you could understand and you actually wanted to
learn more, whereas I feel like some teachers in high school don’t really do that. And just
having that foundation, a very solid and strong foundation, it’s easier to build upon that
once the foundation is there. If the foundation is not there, you can’t build upon it, it’s
going to take a lot longer. So, I’ve pretty much been in science for a
really long time. My mom is a nurse, and so, it’s pretty much been engrained in me that
medicine and kind of taking care of people is important and really helping people through
your work. I remember reading a paper one day on the gut microbiome, so looking at bacteria
in the gut and how in a lean person versus an obese person, there are different types
of communities of bacteria that live in the gut that can shape how a person is able to
break down their food products and basically store that food as energy or store it as fat.
So, from that point on, I told myself that I would work on the microbiome. So, when it was time for me to finish up graduate
school, I looked for if a post-doc position and so I applied no this fellowship program
at NIH. So, I’ve been here for about five years working on skin microbiome work. So,
within the field, it’s called the microbiome, which is basically the study of all of the
microbes and their genes on the human body. So, we’re really interested in looking at
what bugs are on you, baseline what do the microbes on your skin look like and how it
basically keeps you healthy when the communities are happy. And then when there’s some sort
of shift, whether that be because, you’ve taken antibiotics, because you have a cold
or something, some sort of bacterial infection, and that can completely change the types of
bacteria or fungi that are residing on your skin or even in your gut. And then that can
create some sort of disease state. And that’s what happens in an individual who has to undergo
a fecal transplant; they’ve been on a course of antibiotics that totally wipes out all
the good bacteria in their gut. And because it wipes out the good bacteria, the bad bacteria
are able to grow. And that causes diarrhea and really bad infections and could lead to
death if it goes untreated. And there has been research where they’ve
taken feces from one individual and transplanted that into another person who has a really
bad gut disorder, which could potentially kill them. And, so, they gave of give them
this whole solist [spelled phonetically] of poop that has bacteria in it, and it actually
cures the person. There’s about 80 to 85 percent success rate. And it’s called a fecal transplant.
And the reason it works is because we now understand what bacteria are in our gut, and
how they’re actually helping to keep us healthy, how they can also cause disease. And how those
communities shift, that can also create disease. And, so, because we have that information,
we’re able to take bugs from one person and transplant it into someone else, and that
could actually cure someone of a disorder. So, there’s a physician in Canada who’s desiccating
down the poop sample, basically — a powder, essentially — and putting that in a pill
form and having people swallow. But you have to take 20 to 30 of the pills in order for
it to actually offer protection and cure you of that bacterial infection. They’re actually
doing the work now to really tease apart what it is in the poop that’s curing people. In
the lab, for a lot of the microbiome experiments, we’re basically sampling from healthy adults
or sometimes individuals who have diseases or some sort of disorder. So, a normal day to day for me is basically
getting the samples that we’ve brought up from the NIH. Some of the participants, as
I said, either have leg ulcers or some don’t. So, this is what a tube would look like. And
inside the tube is a swab. So, this is an image showing plates that we actually cultured
from healthy human skin. So, these are all fungi from different participants in the study.
This is a plate of the heel, toenail, nose, back and toe web. And this is what we would
call a yeast. And that was found in the nose of one of the participants. And we all pretty
much have that in our nose, because we breathe in mold spores all the time, which don’t cause
us any harm because we’re pretty healthy. So, we use a really long swab to basically
sample from the skin. We take that swab and we put it into a small micro centrifuge tube
and we incubate in this shaker at 37 degrees for an hour. And then after that, we do a
couple shaking steps. And, so, this is for mechanical disruption to really help break
apart the cells, the bacteria, and fungal cells that are in the tube. And, so, we place
it on here and we shake it and [unintelligible] basically for about 10 minutes at really high
speed. This is what it sounds like, and it shakes for 10 minutes. This is a particular fungal isolate that’s
found in people who have foot infections. And, so, it was really interesting to see
that we were actually able to recover that from this participant. And then on the back,
you have Malassezia, which is actually the most dominant fungus on the human skin. It
basically represents 50 to 80 percent of skin fungi. So, it’s pretty much all over us. We
all have it. And then after that, we add in some additional reagents that kind of help
really pull out the DNA that’s been released from the cells. And in the very end you have
this tube with your DNA in it so it should have your bacterial DNA as well as fungal
DNA in this tube. But then what about someone who has acne,
or has some other skin disorder, like psoriasis, or rosacea, or eczema for example? What does
it look like in that individual, and how can we use that information basically help treat
that person? So, this is DNA that’s been isolated from one of our patient samples so that we
can then do PCR to amplify regions that are specific to the bacteria and regions that
are specific to the fungi so we can use those regions to identify what’s in our sample.
This kind of work requires a lot of sequencing, a lot of manpower to actually do the processing
of your samples Female Speaker:
And how many more patients do you have left to see? Keisha Findley:
For the microbiome study, it’s only going to be maybe six more with leg ulcers, hopefully. Female Speaker:
Okay. Keisha Findley:
And then the data analysis part, which means you spend a lot of time in front of a computer
doing analysis. And that can take anywhere from weeks to months to actually complete
your analysis. Because you can generate up to 5 million consequences depending on how
many participants, how many sample you’ve sequenced. The public is what I think really excites
me. It’s just being able to talk to students, parents about what I do and just get everyone
excited about the microbes. Because they’re here and they’re not going anywhere. And,
really they outnumber our human cells by 10 to 1. So, we’re pretty much 10 percent human,
90 percent fungi, bacteria, viruses, RK, etc. So, we have to love them [laughs], because
they’re here. We’re only just beginning. And there’s so much more to explore. Never let anyone tell you you can’t do it.
Because I’ve had people in the past tell me that I couldn’t. And I didn’t listen, I just
kept moving forward and realized that this was something that I was interested in, and
if I wanted it, I could definitely achieve it. But just know that there were people who
will come into your life and tell you that you can’t. And just silence them, don’t listen
and move forward. If you want it, you work hard and you will be rewarded. It won’t be
easy, but it’s worth it. [music playing] [end of transcript]

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