Biomesight is an AI-driven wellness analytics platform with a primary focus on the gut microbiome as a leading indicator of wellness. In this interview, Founder & CEO Rose Walbrugh explains what makes a healthy microbiome and how testing and tracking it can improve the lives of millions all over the world.
What brought you to found Biomesight?
Initially, my interest in microbiome testing was a personal one. As someone who used to suffer from gut issues, I was using the service of a company called uBiome to track my gut and test my microbiome over time, similar to what we do at Biomesight.
Sadly, uBiome went bankrupt and it created a gap in the market because none of the testing companies out there gave you a convenient interface and a feel of a community like they did.
A lot of people had the raw data that they had downloaded from uBiome but they had nowhere to take that data. I felt it was a shame for all of that to go to waste, so I decided, with the support of a dedicated Facebook group, to replicate that experience and create a web app where people could upload their raw sequence data from uBiome and take it from there. Everyone in that group was very keen because they didn’t want all the insights to be gained from their previous results to be lost. That was how we started, in 2019.
The next step was to look at the problems that people face. A large portion of our users have health issues strongly correlated with the gut microbiome. We give them food and prebiotic recommendations, but some of them prefer to work with a health care practitioner in order to go further.
We added practitioner profiles so users can share their data and book appointments with their practitioners of choice. People spend thousands of pounds trying to restore their health and they get nowhere, so that’s one of the problems that we can address.
The next step is to add practitioner reviews and ratings because social proof in the form of reviews from others is invaluable in aiding the decision-making process, especially when there’s a high stake.
Apart from gut issues, Biomesight can also be used in a more general health perspective, and as it lets you know how certain foods are affecting you. Intolerance and allergy tests usually look at immune reactions. They tell you which foods you should avoid, but they don’t tell you which foods are particularly good for you. From a gut health perspective, it’s not enough.
One product that we are thinking of adding to our catalog is continuous glucose monitoring. Using a wearable sensor, we can continuously monitor blood glucose response to specific foods you eat over the course of a day, a week, or longer.
Users will be able to see exactly what their initial response was and what happened after two, four, or six hours. They can see how long their blood glucose stayed elevated, when it spiked and when it dropped.
There’s a lot you can learn from that but our main focus is on improving our personalized recommendations because we think that is where we can deliver the greatest value to our customers.
What exactly is the microbiome, and how is it tested?
The microbiome is a collection of organisms in your gut and elsewhere in and on the body, made up of bacteria, archaea, viruses, and fungi – many of which we still don’t know much about.
We have microbes not just in our gut, but on our skin, saliva, and many other parts of our body. We decided to focus on the gut microbiome because it affects the rest of your microbiome and not the other way around. So while we could test your skin, vagina, or saliva, it’s a more targeted test and therefore less impactful from an overall health perspective.
With 16S sequencing technology, testing the microbiome has become a lot more accessible. We offer a stool test that measures what’s in the large intestine.
What makes a healthy microbiome?
That’s a very good question and sadly, it is not taught in medical schools. Put simply, it’s all about the balance between the different organisms in your gut. There’s also a number of keystone species that have a large impact on the overall ecosystem, even when present in very small quantities.
At Biomesight, we use ranges for several key microbes, established by one of the leading researchers in this field, Dr. Jason Hawrelak. These ranges include probiotics, commensals, and what we call pathobionts. We give you a score that indicates how well balanced and diverse your microbiome is.
What kind of data do you cover in your reports?
When you first get your results on Biomesight, you get an overall gut wellness score. You can zoom in to any of the 12 sections that we focus on and see the breakdown of your overall score. Each score is colored red, amber, or green, depending on how balanced your gut microbiome is.
You can also see a description of the microbes you have to find out what they affect and how common they are in the gut. Advanced users can see a breakdown of all the species within a selection of bacteria, and see where they score in relation to the normal and optimal ranges. We have so much data that people could probably spend days just digging into it.
We have different sections that focus on the end products that bacteria produce, such as short-chain fatty acids. The toxins section includes Hydrogen sulfide, methane, ethanol, and other toxins that are produced in the gut.
Users can also track across samples. This is something that a lot of our customers find useful, especially when making changes in their diet and supplement routine.
We also cover neurotransmitters, because they are produced by gut bacteria. Obviously, this is not the same as testing your brain. We currently only flag it if there are two standard deviations from the norm. You have to be a real outlier to stand out on those.
One section that a lot of tests don’t have is dietary intolerances. In the lactose section, we give a list of all the bacteria that produce and break down lactose. We found that a lot of people from Asia and other non-caucasian countries tend to have genetic deficiencies or differences in the enzymes that produce lactose. That’s where the gut microbes come in.
To give you an example, at age 18, I realized I was lactose intolerant and subsequently verified it in a DNA test, but because I have improved my gut microbiome and now have a high amount of lactase-producing bacteria, I can now tolerate dairy as much as I want without any side effects. But when I had to take antibiotics, I noticed all of the symptoms of lactose intolerance suddenly came back because my gut microbiome was recovering from the antibiotics. Within 3-4 days I was back to normal. That shows how impactful the microbiome is, especially when it comes to food.
One area that we’re focusing on is auto-immune skin conditions. We found that low oxalate degrading bacteria is common in people with auto-immune skin conditions and auto-immune conditions in general. Gut bacteria is critical for degrading oxalates.
Watch this video for more information on Biomesight’s reports:
What is the correlation between microbiome and DNA testing?
The commonalities are mostly in one’s ability to produce different enzymes. When it comes to the gut, we look at how your microbes are helping in certain areas. When it comes to oxalates, we’re completely dependent on our gut bacteria. No human produces any oxalate degrading enzymes at all, so that’s why we focus on it more.
Your DNA will never change. These days, they also have tests that can tell to which extent genes are activated, and that can vary from one test to another. That said, some people’s gut microbiome is remarkably stable, with near-identical results even one year apart. They go from one diet to the next, and it doesn’t make any difference. So, unless you’re actively intervening with prebiotics and probiotics, yours might be quite stable, certainly as an adult.
How is microbiome data being used by physicians and doctors?
Currently, Biomesight is used by healthcare practitioners who have a more functional approach and look beyond symptoms and diagnostic tests to understand the root cause of the patient’s condition. We also have scientists from different backgrounds that specialize in microbiome analysis.
The mainstream health services don’t use microbiome tests at all, but they are doing some research in the area. We often get queries from patients who work with gastroenterologists and do many tests, some of which are quite invasive, just to be told that no issues were found. I think that’s unfortunate because a simple microbiome test can reveal a lot about imbalances in the microbiome that may be causing their issues.
I believe that in the next 10 years, it is going to be much more mainstream because it’s fundamental to human health.
Which trends and technologies do you find to be particularly intriguing these days?
I think it’s going to get really interesting when companies start combining different data sets, as is already starting to happen. Since they are all very specialized areas, it is complex to be taking all of the models into consideration. Just looking at the DNA or the microbiome is one thing, but bringing everything together would be far more beneficial for the individual patient as it will make it easier for people to fully understand their condition.
What are your future plans for biomesight?
We’re currently working on a new feature called the Cohort Analyzer, which will allow users to select the cohorts that they’re interested in based on a variety of factors. You can combine a number of health conditions, symptoms, age, or any other data that people are asked to complete in their health profiles. Based on the criteria, you can see how many people are in your selected cohort.
We also have a control cohort that constitutes those not in the selected cohort. The cohort analyzer would take these two sets of samples, and using AI, look for the key differences between the selected cohort versus the control group.
While the general public can use it, it is particularly useful for researchers who want to find the correlation between two or more factors. For example, they can select whatever number of people suffering from anxiety or depression, and see the common irregularities in their gut bacteria. I’m excited about releasing that over the next 3-6 months and discussing it with the scientific community.