Irish and Sudanese Scientists Partner on Gut Health to Prevent Disease

Irish and Sudanese Scientists have teamed up on an innovative approach to combating a slew of preventable diseases currently crippling Sudan’s population through a strategic partnership centred on gut health.

As part of an ESTHER Ireland grant partnership administered by the Irish Global Health Network and funded by the Health Service Executive, APC Microbiome Institute in University College Cork and Ribat University Khartoum Sudan will develop a partnership to progress microbiome science in Sudan.

Microbiome science has proven to be an effective health and economically sound approach to securing the long-term health needs of future generations. Research of the human microbiome—the genetic material of all the microbes that live in and on the body— has led to fundamental scientific evidence for improved long-term health outcomes, particularly in children.

Early stage development of gut microbiota in infants can determine overall health and the prevention or vulnerability to chronic disease, such as under-nutrition, cancer, mental disorders, obesity, respiratory illnesses, coeliac disease, diabetes, hypertension, infertility and other areas of  human health affected by the gut–brain–skin axis.

It is expected that promising initiatives will be furthered in the understanding, prevention, management and even treatment in many of these debilitating diseases. The partnership also aims to improve overall health infrastructure.

Context and Progress

The two partners had previously collaborated on a microbiome study in 2018 related to smokeless tobacco users in Sudan, a custom ingrained in the country for centuries and linked to high rates of mouth cancer. Sudanese children and members of the the Sudanese population that have migrated to Ireland have also been included as an attempt to widen the understanding of how other factors, such as diet, culture, social considerations, geography and poverty can also affect the microbiome.

As part of the current partnership, the microbiome of babies and mothers will be examined to identify key microbes that promote infant lifelong health, and to understand the association between the structure and function of the maternal microbiome on the infant.

There will also be a focus on fermentable foods that form a solid part of the heritage of Sudan and their role in the improvement of food manufacture and food stability. Other areas of intervention will be covered, such as the introduction of probiotic foods into diets.

The partnership between the two institutions will be maintained in the long term with the development of further initiatives such as a microbiome Master’s programme; training of Sudanese technicians; setup of a laboratory equipped with microbiome capability; along with vital infrastructure and other technologies involved in data collection and preparation.

APC Microbiome Institute will provide research affiliates, mentors and facilitators in meeting the challenge of innovation and new technology to develop a sustainable “Microbiome Research of Excellence Centre” in Sudan in the years ahead.

The programme is attuned to many of the sustainable development goals set out by the United Nations in 2015 including Goal 3 (good health and wellbeing), Goal 9 (industry innovation and infrastructure), Goal 11 (sustainable cities and communities), Goal 12 (responsible consumption and production) and Goal 17 (partnerships for the goals).

Key Objectives of the Partnership

  • To establish a strong and sustainable link between the two institutions that particularly aims to develop microbiome science in Sudan
  • To provide equipment for microbiome analysis in Sudan and that allows for growth and expansion of critical mass, resources and facilities for future projects
  • To research the complexity of the relationship between microbiome in health and disease in important categories that include; maternal and neonate health, the elderly, poverty, and cancer amongst the Sudanese population
  • To develop academic postgraduate opportunities in the field of microbiome between Sudan and Ireland
  • To introduce probiotic development proposals in concordance with Sudanese food businesses that prioritise national food development schemes and technology in particular the field of fermentable food products of Sudan
  • To promote microbiome science awareness and understanding within the Sudanese society through public health

The benefits to APC Microbiome Institute (Ireland) include positioning Ireland at the forefront of an exciting research area; enhancing its understanding of the microbiome in gastrointestinal infections and inflammatory conditions of the gut; and building relations and capacity for moving forward.

The ability to integrate microbiome knowledge from such a different socioeconomic perspective as Sudan with its distinct dietary, cultural and associated health factors would help APC Microbiome Institute operate more effectively internationally. It could also establish potential for industry progression between the two countries in future.