Blog Global Health Center

Demystifying the microbiome: A summer of pediatric research

Written by William Sayre, MD candidate & Social Justice Scholar, USF Morsani College of Medicine, and the Summer Pediatric Research in Global Health Translation (SPRIGHT) Scholar in the 2023 Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program

Will Sayre standing in front of the McDonnell Pediatric Research Building on the Medical School Campus

What is the origin of the infant virome and microbiome? Can we predict, based on the bacteria and viruses present in a baby from birth, different health outcomes and disease-states later in life? These are some of the questions I’ve pondered and worked towards this summer here at WashU in the Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program – Public & Global Health track. Under the direction of Lori R. Holtz, MD, MSPH, and Stephanie A. Fritz, MD, MSCI, I have had an amazing experience learning more about the research process, working in a laboratory setting, and learning from truly knowledgeable doctors. I have also been fortunate to work directly with their respective lab teams, who have supported me and provided insights into being a more effective researcher. 

My experience has been eye-opening. While I have prior research experience working with data sets and clinical interventions, I have never worked in a wet lab setting. I have worked on my pipetting skills, worked through qPCR protocols, and have become more familiar with best practices in the lab. I believe these skills will serve me well in the future as a physician-scientist, providing me with a baseline understanding of what a career in clinical research entails. 

As I hope to contribute to public health policy and research in the future, I have been inspired by the careers of the speakers and mentors in the Summer Research Program. I have followed their day-to-day, learning how they balance time in the clinic with patients, while still contributing to research and improvements in health care. Tying back to the questions I posed at the beginning, my research this summer has involved better understanding the virome and microbiome – the community of microorganisms that reside in our gut and contribute to various metabolic and immune processes. I have contributed to the MOM Study, collecting viral and bacterial samples from newborn infants and their families to better understand the origin of the virome and microbiome. By better understanding where these microbes in our body directly originate, and the environmental sources that influence our gut, I hope to apply this knowledge to better help patients in the future. One aspect I have most enjoyed about the summer program is how they tie back our research to public health, causing me to reflect on how the information we gain from this microbiome research can potentially impact people on a larger scale. 

Overall, I have been very grateful to have worked with Drs Holtz and Fritz, Brian DeBosch, MD, PhD, and the entire Holtz and Fritz lab teams. I would especially like to acknowledge Cherie McElroy, Mary Boyle, Lauren Walsh, and Michelle Mut for their guidance and support. I look forward to continuing to build on the skills I’ve gained from this experience, and staying in touch with the remarkable people I’ve met through this program.