Investigating How Microbes Metabolize Drugs

Microbes in the human gut metabolize numerous compounds in food and drugs, but little is known about how those metabolically altered compounds influence health—for better or worse.

Investigating How Microbes Metabolize Drugs

Libusha Kelly, Ph.D.

In a study published online June 11 in eLife, Leah Guthrie, Ph.D., Sarah Wolfson, Ph.D., and Libusha Kelly, Ph.D., organized 10,000 compounds (found in foods, drugs, or produced by the human body) based on their structure. Compounds were linked to microbial enzymes that metabolize them and drug compounds were labeled with known toxicities. The result was a network annotated with microbial enzymes, toxicity, and structural information in which compounds with similar structure were linked to each other.

To test the database’s validity, in part, Dr. Kelly’s lab looked at how gut microbes may metabolize the ovarian cancer drug altretamine. Physicians and other researchers may soon be able to use the database to predict whether certain compounds might become more toxic after interacting with a patient's microbiomes. Ultimately, patients might be able to avoid compounds that would likely be detrimental to their health.

Dr. Kelly is an assistant professor of systems & computational biology and of microbiology & immunology at Einstein.