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Vaccinated? Your Poop Could Help COVID-19 Research

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Persephone Biosciences wants to enlist 250 San Diegans to share stool staples to analyze how the COVID-19 vaccine interacts with our bodies.

Speaker 1: 00:00 As more people get vaccinated against COVID-19. Researchers are trying to understand how the vaccine interacts with our bodies. While there are a number of ways to test the efficacy of a vaccine. Once it's been administered one San Diego biotech company is soliciting San Diego stool samples to analyze how the vaccine interacts with our gut microbiomes mid-day additions, Jade Hindman spoke with Stephanie colour CEO of [inaudible] bio-science to learn more.

Speaker 2: 00:28 How is it that data gathered from stool samples can give us a better understanding of how our body interacts with the COVID vaccine?

Speaker 3: 00:37 Yeah, so, so are most people don't actually know that our GI track is actually one, our largest immune organ, 80% of our immune cells are in our GI track. And so they have a profound impact on actually how well we respond to vaccines, how well we deal with disease and in prevention of disease and immune health in our bodies. And as many of us know the GI track is home of the gut microbiome, these trillions of microbes that exist within our gut and the bacteria that we have in our gut and what they produce, what do they do has a tremendous impact on our overall immune health and our health to prevent and fight disease. And so it's actually the types of microbes that we have can impact how well we respond to vaccines. And so the only way really to study what's in our gut is by looking at stool samples or otherwise known as poop.

Speaker 2: 01:34 Is there a precedent for collecting data through this, this unusual method?

Speaker 3: 01:38 Yes, our, our company, as well as several others in the spaces, as well as academics, um, locally at UC San Diego with the microbiome Institute there, um, have been profiling the microbiome for the last almost 20 years now. And so, um, and, and we've been doing, it has been through collection of stool samples. Um, our company has, has namely focused in cancer where we have found that, um, the kinds of bacteria that cancer patients have in their gut impact, how well they respond to the latest cheered of cancer drugs.

Speaker 2: 02:15 And how are you reaching out to the community to find participants for this study?

Speaker 3: 02:19 This is a very much a grassroots efforts that he took. Imagine we're a small biotech company, um, incubating inside of J labs, which is part of Johnson and Johnson innovation. And we've been reaching out in several ways, one through our friends and family network, our, our academic, um, colleagues, but also through social media, through, through Facebook, um, as well as, um, Instagram and other platforms. Um, and so that that's been, what's been really helpful for us is, is targeting the community through those efforts.

Speaker 2: 02:53 It's important to note that diversity in these studies is also important. Can you tell us a little bit about that? Yes, absolutely.

Speaker 3: 03:00 Um, and as we've seen with, with the pandemic, it's really, um, put a light or a spotlight on, on the challenges we faced in clinical studies where, um, you know, ethnic and racial minorities are normally not included or representative sufficiently, um, the drug development process. And as we've seen with COVID-19 in particular that these groups, ethnic racial minorities, the elderly have been most impacted, um, and have been showing, you know, the most impact from the severity of the disease itself. And so our study is meant to address that 50% of study participants are aimed to come from these ethnic and racial communities that have been most impacted so that we can truly understand the impact of the gut microbiome on vaccination response. But how, how are people in the real world and in these subpopulations very much, um, reacting to the vaccines,

Speaker 2: 03:57 What is the team behind this study really hoping to find? I mean, are they looking to confirm any existing theories about how the vaccine affects our bodies

Speaker 3: 04:06 In some regards? Yes. Um, and we want to understand the immunity that people have to it and, and when, when they fail. So for example, we know that there are virus variants going around in our communities. And how is that impacting vaccine response? Our ultimate goal as, as a company actually is to develop a microbiome therapeutic in orally deliver pill that contains the right bacteria to stimulate your immune system, to respond most effectively to a vaccine.

Speaker 2: 04:38 Are there plans to increase the scope and scale of this study once this initial trial is done?

Speaker 3: 04:44 Yes, absolutely. This initial trial is really meant to get us data as quick as possible. So we can publish this in the scientific community, but we want to scale nationwide to over 10,000 participants and are looking to partner up with other academic institutions, those manufacturing, the vaccines that we are all receiving, um, as well as perhaps other healthcare providers, um, like, uh, CVS health or Walgreens.

Speaker 2: 05:12 In what ways do you hope to study creates a clearer picture of what we know about the various COVID-19 vaccines?

Speaker 3: 05:18 Yes. Um, I think what's been missing here and we're just starting to get that is real-world data. We, we have been hearing on the news data coming from clinical trials, but as we can imagine, those are very structured settings. So what, what we're really trying to aim at is in the real population, our country, how are we most responding to the vaccines and are there ways to improve that are there ways for the next generation of vaccines to take data from this study and make them better and make them work for everybody? You know, most medications are not a one size fits all. Well, how can we take this data? Make sure that these vaccines are indeed a one size fits all.

Speaker 2: 06:01 And I understand that you're looking at the stool samples. You're, you're observing the bacteria, that's in those samples. What about the virus itself? Do you anticipate finding the virus in any of those samples

Speaker 3: 06:13 As a possibility? And so what we're doing, and especially once we get to the national scale, getting looking at thousands of study participants is if they do unfortunately get the Corona virus, we will be sending out a kit to them to be able to sequence, to understand which variant in particular, and as some studies have shown, um, it does look like there is a GI related impact on severe cases of COVID-19 specifically, um, unhealthy microbiomes have been linked to severe COVID-19 responses. And so that's something that we're, we're looking at as well.

Speaker 2: 06:50 I've been speaking with Stephanie color CEO of Pacific bio-sciences. Stephanie, thank you so much for joining us.

Speaker 3: 06:57 Thank you.

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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.