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Exploring the Secret World Inside Us… Janssen and the Microbiome

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Each of us has a secret world inside us, on us and around us. At the time of birth, our bodies are exposed to a wildly diverse world of microbes and soon after, a complex, personal population of these microorganisms and their genetic impressions – our microbiome – starts to develop. Using similar methods that once decoded the human genome, the scientific community has begun to more deeply understand the role the microbiome plays in keeping us healthy, and how it may influence the development of illness and disease.

Unlocking the mysteries of the microbiome has been my passion for nearly a decade. From my time participating in the NIH Human Microbiome Project to my new position as the Global Head of the Janssen Human Microbiome Institute (JHMI), my focus has been on understanding how balance and imbalance in the microbiota, or our “bugs,” can be assessed and linked to diseases with devastating effects, like cancer, inflammatory bowel diseases and diabetes. At the JHMI, we are committed to finding new solutions or interventions targeting the microbiome that can promote health. By building our internal expertise and developing an open innovation approach, we will aim to work with scientific and entrepreneurial collaborators around the world across academia, government and the life science industry who share our passion.

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It’s through investments in research and collaboration that we aim to lead in microbiome innovation. But at Janssen, we believe scientific leadership should go beyond research and development and include investment in public education and awareness for future scientists and innovators. To that end, I am proud to announce that the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson is a sponsor for “The Secret World Inside You,” a new exhibition appearing November 7, 2015 through August 2016 at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. The exhibit uses larger-than-life models, interactive activities, videos and a live theater to explore the rapidly evolving science around the microbiome that is revolutionizing how we view human health. The impact the human microbiome has on health and disease is important today and for generations to come, and we are excited to support this educational effort.

And speaking of generations…as I write this blog post and reflect on the microbiome’s role in our future, my wife and I eagerly await the birth of our first child. The scientist in me is excited thinking about our baby boy’s first days of life and the establishment of his microbiome. The convergence of fatherhood and healthcare further fuels my hope and dedication to the work we are doing today in exploring the microbiome, and translating such efforts into solutions that will help generations live healthier lives.

Dirk Gevers, Ph.D., is Global Head of the newly created Janssen Human Microbiome Institute (JHMI). The creation of the JHMI will deepen the Janssen R&D’s leadership, scientific understanding and capabilities in this emerging and exploding area of science.

Dirk joined from his most recent role as Senior Group Leader of Microbial Systems and Communities at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. In this position, Dirk served as a scientific liaison between different organizational components, including the Broad Institute’s data generation platforms and both clinical and analytical collaborators on a number of microbiome-related projects. Dirk’s research efforts at the Broad Institute included the characterization of the microbial imbalance associated with diseases such as Crohn’s disease, type 1 diabetes and colorectal cancer. He was also involved with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Human Microbiome Project (HMP), holding a leading role in the Data Analysis Working Group, consisting of over 50 investigators focused on human microbiome research.

Dirk received his Ph.D. in biochemistry from Ghent University (UGent), Belgium, and completed postdoctoral training at UGent and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in bioinformatics, comparative and evolutionary genome analysis and microbial ecology.

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