American Gut and uBiome Invite Public Participation in Human Microbiome Research
Update 01/31/2013: uBiome has announced that it has extended its Indiegogo deadline to February 18, 2013 and will release further details on later opportunities to participate after that time.
Update 01/29/2013: American Gut has reported that it has received approval to open participation to volunteers outside the U.S. The fundraising phase for American Gut ends on February 2, 2013 at 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time. As of this writing, it has not yet reached its projected fundraising and participation goals. uBiome, which is also open to volunteers worldwide, has exceeded its goals but will be accepting more participants and funding until January 31, 2013 at 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time.
As many readers of this blog are probably aware, the potential roles of “good” and “bad” gut bacteria in gastrointestinal disorders like IBS is somewhat of a “hot topic” in recent years, capturing much attention in both scientific and mainstream media. This field of research appears to be promising, but despite the hype, actual scientific understanding is still at a very early stage. In hopes of giving microbiome research a major push forward, two separate teams of researchers are now using the innovative means of the Internet crowdfunding site Indiegogo to raise funds and recruit a broad range of volunteers from the general public. For monetary donations of varying amounts depending on the number of test kits and surveys one wishes to receive, one can submit stool, and/or mouth or skin samples for analysis. Both projects’ Indiegogo campaigns will end in early February 2012, so interested readers should act soon.
Both American Gut and uBiome welcome participation from those who are currently healthy and those with medical conditions. The uBiome posting, linked later in this post, offers one kit option specific to those with known bowel disorders like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). American Gut hopes to recruit a total of 10,000 U.S. residents, adults and children older than 3 months, with a total funding goal of $400,000, and uBiome is open to 2000 people from anywhere in the world with a total funding goal of $100,000, though in both cases, those who sign up will still be able to participate if the ultimate numbers fall short. Both American Gut and uBiome have privacy policies whereby samples will be coded and personally identifying information will be protected according to standard research protocols and U.S. health privacy laws.
Although this unconventional recruiting approach differs from standard, controlled clinical trials, these are legitimate research endeavors involving collaborations among scientists and social scientists associated with well-regarded academic, medical and scientific research institutions. Donated samples for American Gut will be received and coordinated by the University of Colorado at Boulder, but will also be used by researchers at more than two dozen sites in the United States, Belgium and Australia. uBiome is located in the San Francisco Bay Area of the United States, but involves people with ties to several countries. According to the uBiome website, its founders and scientific advisors have varied high-level expertise and honors in biochemistry, biophysics, molecular cell biology, biotechnology medicine, computer science, economics, entrepreneurship and social innovation.
The Indiegogo listings for each endeavor are linked below.
It should be emphasized that although each team of researchers will provide participating donors with individual analyses of their own or their participating family members’ samples, and other reports about their research findings in general, these do not constitute formal recommendations or means of prevention, diagnosis or treatment of IBS or any other medical condition. Scientific understanding of the human microbiome has not reached that point yet. Readers of this blog post who choose to volunteer should do so in the spirit of, in the words of uBiome, “citizen science,” the public good and future understanding of how the microbiome works and influences human health. With that in mind, these appear to be very interesting opportunities, and IBS Impact wishes all the involved researchers useful insights and progress toward those ends.