Harnessing the Microbiome to Understand Rheumatic Diseases

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There is growing evidence – both in animal models and humans – to suggest the significant role of the microbiome in the etiology of rheumatic diseases. Over the years, multiple microbial agents and changes in the composition of the microbiota have been associated with specific autoimmune diseases, only emphasizing the importance of the microbiome in rheumatology research today.

To give us further insight, we are joined in this episode by Maximilian Konig, MD, Division of Rheumatology at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, and Veena Taneja, PhD, associate professor of immunology in the Department of Immunology and Rheumatology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

Featured Guests

Maximilian Konig, MD, is a rheumatologist at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, and a postdoctoral fellow at the Ludwig Center for Cancer Genetics and Therapeutics & Howard Hughes Medical Institute at the Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center. He received his medical degree from Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin and completed his residency training in internal medicine at the Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School in Boston, before pursuing a fellowship in rheumatology at Johns Hopkins.

Dr Konig has a long-standing interest in mechanisms underlying the initiation of autoimmunity in rheumatic diseases. As a postdoctoral fellow working with Felipe Andrade, MD, PhD, he studied mechanisms by which microbial species associated with periodontitis induce protein citrullination. His work proposed a role for the periodontal pathogen Aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans in the immunopathogenesis of rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

Dr Konig’s current research is focused on adoptive cell therapy and chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell immunotherapy in autoimmune rheumatic disease and cancer.

Veena Taneja, PhD, is an associate professor in the Department of Immunology with a joint appointment in the Division of Rheumatology at Mayo Clinic. She is a member of the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center Immunology and Immunotherapy Program, and a member of the Clinical Immunology Committee of the American Association of Immunologists. Dr Taneja serves on various study sections for the National Institute of Health and Canadian Institute of Health Research and is also an academic editor for PLOS One and Autoimmune Diseases.

The focus of research in her laboratory is on investigating the immunopathology of aging-related chronic conditions, including RA and associated diseases, with her laboratory making seminal discoveries in these areas of research. To simulate human autoimmune diseases and sex bias, her laboratory has generated a mouse model that mimics human RA in sex bias and autoantibody profile. Her laboratory has been at the forefront of developing microbial markers for pathogenicity as well as therapy.

Dr Taneja and her colleagues have isolated the bacterium Prevotella histicola from a human gut biopsy and are directing their efforts toward investigating the basis for therapeutic potential of the gut microbiome. P histicola was found to be successful in phase 1 trials. In addition, her laboratory is exploring ways to use this research and technology for comorbidities like lung fibrosis and emphysema that are associated with rheumatic diseases to ensure healthy aging for patients.

Dr Taneja has received numerous awards and honors for her work. She recently received the Excellence in Research award from the Military Health Research for her work in delineating the use of gut microbiome for treating arthritis. Her research has been funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, the Department of Defense, the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, the Regenerative Medicine Minnesota, and the Arthritis Foundation.