Photo: iStock

International initiative for research on the impact of gut bacteria


Can gut bacteria cause obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease? This is the core question of an international research initiative involving the University of Gothenburg, based in Denmark and supported by money from the Novo Nordisk Foundation.

The Novo Nordisk Foundation has decided to grant DKK 150 million (USD 22 million) for the initial phase of the Microbiome Health Initiative, a virtual research center based at the Technical University of Denmark, DTU, north of Copenhagen.

The initiative will be led by Fredrik Bäckhed, Professor of Molecular Medicine at the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg, together with co-leader Tine Rask Licht, Professor and Head of Research at DTU within the field of Nutrition, Microbes and Health.

The University of Gothenburg will be associated with the initiative, along with a handful of universities and hospitals in Denmark and beyond. The aim of making the initiative virtual is to include very prominent research groups within the field.

Causality and treatment

Over the past two decades, Fredrik Bäckhed's research team has been involved in demonstrating that the composition of the gut bacteria is altered in individuals with cardiometabolic diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

The team has also been able to show that the altered gut microbiota produces various molecules that may contribute to the disease progression. The Microbiome Health Initiative will focus on collaborative research to study causality, with a planned start this fall and until 2028.

Fredrik Bäckhed, Institute of Medicine, Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg.
Photo: Johan Wingborg

“It is now time to investigate whether the altered gut microbiota causes or contributes to cardiovascular disease and diabetes in humans. We know that there is a correlation, but there are no studies that show a causality in humans,” says Fredrik Bäckhed.

“Once we have this knowledge, the next step is to find and develop new strategies to treat or prevent these important diseases. Such new strategies will be based on modifications of our gut microbiome, for example by adding new bacteria or dietary components,” says Professor Tine Rask Licht at DTU.

The evaluation of the initial phase of the initiative will determine its continuation in the form of a second phase, planned for 2026-2030, and if so, with additional funding. This would involve intervention studies in humans and investment in infrastructure to support the development of microbes, metabolites or targeted supplements for therapeutic purposes.

International coordination and strength

The foundation expresses strong confidence in the Microbiome Health Initiative. Birgitte Holst is Director of Medical Scientific Research at the Novo Nordisk Foundation:

“If the initiative succeeds in establishing a causality between the microbiome and cardiometabolic diseases, it could lead to a whole new set of tools to manage these devastating diseases, and help solve a major global healthcare challenge,” she said in a statement.

Fredrik Bäckhed, who will remain in his role at the University of Gothenburg, in parallel with a part-time managerial position of the Microbiome Health Initiative, sees great advantages in the arrangement.

“For us in Gothenburg, it is a fantastic opportunity to do this. The project's multidisciplinary approach allows us to coordinate the research of several strong international research groups to develop the most promising treatment concepts,” he says.

Research Group: Bäckhed Lab