The BioCollective seeks to build big gut microbiome data set

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

The BioCollective seeks to build big gut microbiome data set

Related tags Entrepreneurship

A Colorado-based startup is taking a crowd-sourcing type approach to the assembly of a statistically significant amount of microbiome data.

Called The BioCollective, the firm, which is based in the Denver suburb of Centennial, is offering test kits to participants, called “members,” who, in return for supplying a detailed amount of information via questionnaires, will received data on their own, personal microbial communities.

Personal health journey

Martha Carlin, the entrepreneur whose vision helped launch the effort, said she came to the work via her attempts to help her husband through a health crisis. Carlin said she was trained as an accountant, not as a scientist, but she said the systems-based mindset she learned while working at an auditing firm has served her well.

“I’m not a classically-trained scientist, but after my husband was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2002 I trained myself. I started with looking at food, what’s in our food supply. I went from there to genetics, and then from there into looking at supplements, and then I started getting into nutritional epigenetics,”​ Carlin told NutraIngredients-USA.

“Then in 2014 Finnish researchers published a paper correlating Parkinson’s with the presence or absence of certain gut bacteria, and everything I’d been reading about and learning about Parkinson’s came together,”​ she said.

Dearth of data

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At that point Carlin said she decided to start a company with a partner that would aid in that research. She could see that the huge gap in the field is the dearth of baseline data. Researchers are aware of certain correlations in the makeup of individual microbiomes. There is the Parkinson’s correlation mentioned above, and other similar correlations have been found in the guts of people struggling with obesity or depression, to name a couple. But these are like dimly glimpsed forms in the fog;  with the knowledge that individual gut microbiomes vary so widely, it’s difficult to know what any of this means. Researchers know there’s wagging going on, so to speak, but it’s hard to say at this point which end is the dog and which end is the tail.

Carlin said her past experience helped inform how she approached her current challenge. Among her entrepreneurial activities in the past was founding a company that provided supplies to companies operating large apartment blocks.

“I was an auditor and consultant for Arthur Andersen. They trained us in systems-based thinking and we used that to look for financial risk. I used that kind of approach to start a company that supplied a basic need; instead of poop it was supplies, and instead of researchers my customers were the apartment industry,”​ she said.

“I started my own research project with Jack Gilbert, PhD ​(a co-founder of The BioCollective) to see if my husband’s personal microbiome data matched the data coming out of Finland, which it did,” ​Carlin said.

Platform to underpin further research

Carlin said the company is still very much in beta mode, and the business model is still under development. At the moment, test kits are being given away for free, with the value to the company coming down the line when enough data can be collected to start to be of use to researchers. Carlin said the company is offering some higher-end testing services that provide much more detailed personal genomic information and are priced at about $300 a pop. But the basic drive is to build the data set, not to act as a feedback loop to support the health of individual consumers.

“We are creating a platform where, say for example a researcher or a company come come that wants to see all the gut samples of people who take Lipitor, or who take a certain vitamin supplement, and they could correlate those with lifestyle factors,” ​Carlin said.

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