A large ceremonial check representing a significant donation to the work of Professr Robert Crawford, third from right, and celebrated by Sacramento State President Robert S. Nelsen, center, and many others was centerpiece of festivities on Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2019. (Sacramento State/Andrea Price)
By Cynthia Hubert
The microbiome is the complex universe that exists inside all of us.
It is the genetic material of the trillions of bacteria, fungi, protozoa and viruses that live on and within the human body, helping us digest our food, regulating our immune systems and protecting us against disease, among other functions.
Sacramento State biology Professor Robert Crawford is an expert in these microscopic inhabitants of our organs and skin. He helps oversee more than a dozen research projects focusing on microbiomes and their impact on human health.
This week, Crawford and his collaborators received a $500,000 gift from Microbiome Labs, a company that studies these genetic materials and funds research that might lead to more effective treatments for deadly infections, obesity, heart disease and other maladies.
“Most of what happens to us is dictated by our microbiome, and it is different in every person,” said Kiran Krishnan, chief scientific officer of Microbiome Labs. “It’s the most unique thing about us.”
Krishnan and Tom Bayne, Microbiome Lab’s president, gathered at Sac State’s Ernest E. Tschannen Science Complex on Wednesday to present a ceremonial check to a group that included Sac State President Robert S. Nelsen, Crawford, and Raja Sivamani, a UC Davis dermatologist and biology professor and Crawford’s research collaborator.
Microbiome studies are in their early stages. Scientists around the world are trying to create a microbiological road map for tissues, including the gastrointestinal tract, skin, airways, and urogenital tract. They want to identify changes in the microbiome that are associated with disease, then find ways to correct those problems in affected tissues.
Crawford and his students have researched, among other things, how microbiomes affect wound healing, with an emphasis on diabetic ulcers that can be difficult to treat. They also study bacterial species that affect the gut.
The Microbiome Labs gift, Crawford said, will allow students to conduct meaningful research that could lead to clinical trials and treatment breakthroughs. It will increase the number of students working in Crawford’s lab, provide funds for students and faculty to present research findings at academic conferences, purchase new equipment and conduct public workshops.
“There is a huge gap in biological sciences between basic research and clinical work,” said Crawford, whose lab is housed in the newly opened Science Complex. “This brings those factors together and allows students to have meaningful experiences related to their research.”
Sac State and Crawford have been on Microbiome Lab’s radar for a while, Krishnan said.
“We were looking for a relationship with an academic institution, one that was just on the verge of increasing the growth of its biological sciences department,” he said. “Dr. Crawford’s work is very well known” among scientists who study microbiomes, Kirshnan said. “We were very inclined to support his work.”
Bayne and Kirshnan said the company’s $500,000 gift could be the beginning of an ongoing partnership between Sac State and Microbiome Labs.
“Our view is that this gift is for the next 12 months, and we’ll look at it again after that,” Kirshnan said.