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Benefits of prebiotics explored

Thursday 22 April 2021

Prebiotics and probiotics have become a popular topic in health and diet conversations in recent years, and though we know they are great for improving or restoring gut flora, other specific benefits are still being discovered and explored.

For PA Hospital (PAH) kidney specialist Samuel Chan part of his Ph.D. and work with the PAH based Australasian Kidney Trials Network, involves trialing prebiotic supplements to test a hypothesis that the gut environment may be associated with infections in kidney transplant patients following kidney transplantation.

"Prebiotics are fibers and/ or natural sugars that stimulate the good bacteria in our gut to grow. Many prebiotic foods are included in our diet, such as almonds, garlic, green banana and chickpeas" he said.

"Substantial changes occur in our gut environment after kidney transplantation and we suspect that some of the changes we see may be associated with infections that our patients may be experiencing. The changes that occur in our gut environment may be due to things such as antibiotics, the anti-rejection drugs, or the foods we eat. What we want to try and do is dampen down some of the unhealthy germs that line the gut environment and we are trying to test if giving a prebiotic may help."

Samuel recalls working at the Princess Alexandra Hospital as a first-year nephrology advanced trainee back in 2016.

"I used to think, "Why are all these patients coming into hospital with infections?" these infections could be urinary tract infections, gut infections, lung infections, brain infections, skin infections, etc. We would give them antibiotics and fluids, see that their blood tests get better and then send them home, but then they will come back a couple of months later, same patients, same infections," he said.

This is what has led him down the path of exploring changes in the gut environment in kidney transplant patients. Informing his trial is evidence that prebiotics and probiotics have been shown to dampen down the gut environment in patients with Alzheimer's, dementia, diabetes and obesity.

Samuel's development in Nephrology has been heavily supported by the mentorship of PAH's Professor David Johnson and Dr Carmel Hawley as well as the PA Research Foundation, having received two research grants that helped him secure a larger scholarship through the National Health and Medical Research Council.

Samuel said the support of young researchers by the PA Research Foundation has been incredibly important in driving innovations in medical research and in improving patient outcomes.

"We work in one of the most academic centers and one of the best research centers in the whole of Australia and the PA Research Foundation has really been a major stepping stone in providing us with research support."

With his prebiotic trial about to commence, Samuel is already looking sharing his results with you next year.

Donate to support the work of young medical researchers like Samuel Chan here.