‘Feeding the brain: exploring the gut-brain connection’

December 11, 2018

Dr. Neil Bindemann, Director of Innervate Ltd. Executive Director of the Primary care and Community Neurology Society (P-CNS). Neil Bindemann’s first degree is a BSc Honours in Immunology from the University of Glasgow, then he went on to complete a PhD in Neurobiology at University College London – looking at peripheral nerve injury and the interaction between elements of the immune system and the neuropeptide, CGRP, found in both the central and peripheral nervous system. Through Innervate Ltd, which he set up in 2001 to support advances in healthcare communication working in partnership with healthcare professionals, he has stimulated the creation of various initiatives including Primary care and Community Neurology Society and Community Therapists Network. 


Biofortis team had the opportunity to meet him at the Food Matters Live, 2018, event, where he presented a talk entitled ‘Feeding the brain: exploring the gut-brain connection’. We had the opportunity to interview him about this topic.

1/ Why are you interested in Human Microbiome research?

I became interested in human microbiome research as a result of a personal health issue that lead me to research the relevance of food to brain health. It was while I was researching the literature that I discovered some key papers that highlighted the significance of the microbiome to brain health. In addition, my work with the Primary care and Community Neurology Society and Advances in Clinical Neuroscience and Rehabilitation Journal has also driven an interest in educating healthcare professionals in this rapidly developing field of neuroscience.


2/ What is your point of view on the importance of considering the gut microbiota in approaching the brain disorders, related to the life-habit in industrialized-country (stress, diet…)?

This is an area of research that is in its infancy, but there is a growing body of evidence from some key international research centres that has highlighted that our gut microbiota has a key role not only in our general health, but also our brain health.  The mechanisms by which the microbiota does this are only starting to be uncovered. For instance, we know that certain strains of bacteria produce important neurotransmitters such as serotonin and GABA (1,2). How that production then causes changes in brain function is not so clear, but key links such as the vagus nerve, which is the main connection between the gut and the brain looks to have some involvement. As I mention in my recent talk at Food Matters Live, we know that the vagus nerve has key role in brain health as VNS (Vagal Nerve Stimulation) has become a important treatment option for conditions such as epilepsy, depression with more recent research showing it also may have an important role in Parkinson’s disease, which has recently been talked about as a condition that may start in the gut.


3/ According to you, what are the biggest challenges and opportunities in Human Microbiome studies and development of Therapeutics (regulatory, scientific insight…)?

I believe one of the biggest challenges for companies looking to participate in human microbiome research will be managing the costs of a typical clinical trials programme from phase 1 through to phase 3. The companies working in this field may well need to look at ways to collaborate with some of the established pharmaceutical companies who have years of experience.

One interesting opportunity that could arise from working in partnership with a pharmaceutical company could be to look at whether microbiome research could bring benefits to the development of pharmaceutical products, especially when it comes to looking at ways to minimise side effects of some of the conventional treatments. For example, gaining a better understanding of how antibiotics and the microbiome interact could lead to more effective antibiotics, which are less damaging the microbiome, which could then increase the positive impact of antibiotics.


4/ How do you see the evolution of microbiome research into the clinic? What is the place of microbiome research in the medicine of tomorrow? 

In my opinion, the industry needs to invest in communicating good quality research to frontline clinician. Working with organisations such as the Primary care and Community Neurology Society, to raise awareness of the research work would certainly be an important step in the right direction. The messages need to be clear and simple but more important credible. There is a danger that if the companies focus their marketing efforts on consumers, health professionals will see the messages as less believable and moving the research into the clinic will then become more difficult.


I believe that the microbiome research of today as the potential to lead the development of the medicine of tomorrow.



1 - Production of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) by Lactobacillus buchneri isolated from kimchi and its neuroprotective effect on neuronal cells., Cho et al, Journal of Microbiology and Biotechnology  (2007), 17(1):104-109.

2: Gut microbes promote colonic serotonin production through an effect of short-chain fatty acids on enterochromaffin cells, Reigstad et al, The FASEB Journal, (2015) 29, (4): 1395–1403


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