UChicago startups focus on microbiome medicine

Close-up of microbiome researcher Jack Gilbert, PhD
Prof. Jack Gilbert co-founded Gusto Global to better understand microorganisms inside humans and harness them to treat disease. (Photo: Andrew Collings)

Two startup companies founded by UChicago faculty are leveraging the microbiome to develop new medications that could prevent food allergies, stop infections, and treat disease.

ClostraBio, started by Cathryn Nagler, PhD, the Bunning Food Allergy Professor, and Jeffrey Hubbell, the Barry L. MacLean Professor of Molecular Engineering Innovation and Enterprise, is working to develop microbiome-based treatments for food allergies.

In 2014 Nagler and her team discovered that the presence of Clostridia, a common class of gut bacteria, protects against food allergies by acting as a barrier that prevents the trigger foods from entering the bloodstream and sparking an allergic reaction. Nagler's group also identified the differences between the bacteria in the guts of healthy infants and those who were allergic to cow's milk in 2015, and has created mouse models that mimic the human microbiome by transferring bacteria from infants into mice.

ClostraBio will use these special mice and controlled UChicago lab environments, such as the Gnotobiotic Mouse Facility, to test their potential treatments.


A second startup, Gusto Global, launched by Jack Gilbert, PhD, faculty director of the Microbiome Center, and John Alverdy, MD, the Sarah and Harold Lincoln Thompson Professor of Surgery and executive vice chair of the Department of Surgery, is using computer models to predict how the trillions of bacteria in the body interact with each other and influence health. The company's proprietary platform uses databases from human studies to run thousands of simulations to bolster the research and development of microbiome-based drugs.

Both companies have been supported by the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, which provides resources for UChicago researchers to help commercialize their work.