The world of biomedical engineering is being revolutionized by the emergence of a new wave of testing startups and microbiome labs, providing innovative solutions to some of today's most pressing health issues. In recent years, many consumers have become increasingly aware of the microbiome: the collection of bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms that live on and inside the human body.
We've started understanding how these different microbiome environments within the human body can be supported. As a result, probiotics, prebiotics, specialty foods like yogurt and kombucha, and other products have grown in popularity as ways to help foster a balanced microbiota. Microorganisms can be helpful or harmful to the body — those that are symbiotic help nurture healthy ecosystems in the body, and those that are harmful or pathogenic, including viruses and bacteria, contribute to health disorders and diseases. These new microbiome products potentially augment or balance the trillions of microorganisms in our bodies for better health.
The growth of microbiome labs and research
The National Institute of Health’s Human Microbiome Project helped bring awareness and information on the microbiome to the masses post-2016. Interestingly, the project didn’t just target the gastrointestinal tract; it also looked at nasal passages, the oral cavity, skin, and urogenital tract microbiomes. Research on the microbiome has begun to show that it plays a crucial role in maintaining the health and well-being of the human body. These microorganisms help digest food, stave off harmful bacteria, aid in producing vitamins, keep skin clear, and help boost our immune system. We’re also starting to understand the critical role of the gut microbiome in mental health.
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The vast amount of research on the topic is why many microbiome startups have emerged. This new group of startups has been creating a second wave of microbiome technology that is more advanced and personalized. These startups are not just limited to consumer products targeting the gut microbiome — they’re personalizing treatment, looking at skincare solutions, vaginal health, infant gastrointestinal issues, and the gut-brain connection. Some are addressing it via advanced supplements. One startup, Eagle Genomics, is working to create an innovation platform to connect various communities performing research on the topic. Others, like Pragma Bio, are developing new therapeutics to treat disease through the microbiome. On top of all this, many startups are collecting crucial data to help inform the next generation of products.
Direct-to-consumer startups innovating in the microbiome testing space
Ombre offers at-home gut and vaginal health tests that help customers understand which probiotics and supplements are best for them. In addition to supplement recommendations, Ombre helps customers discover what other food and probiotic recommendations can help support digestion, mental health, and immunity.
Dr. Elsa Jungman
Targeting the skin microbiome, Dr. Elsa Jungman has a skin testing kit in addition to a full line of clean skincare products, including serums and cleansers. To test the skin, customers are sent a kit that requires a swab of the skin, which they send back to the company in a prepaid envelope. Bacteria and fungi analysis are conducted, and a custom report with an overview of the top 10 bacteria and fungi on your skin’s surface is shared, along with an overall score, personalized skin health guide, and dietary suggestions.
Vitract, founded by Linta Mustafa – an expert in molecular genetics and former wrestler who solved her own physical issues by unlocking her microbiome – looks at the gut-brain connection to improve patients' lives. They offer holistic mental health care in addition to gut testing. Vitract crafts a personalized precision nutrition plan for each patient and teaches them about the gut-brain connection. Their focus on mental health provides a critical, holistic approach that is not as prevalent in the space.
Targeting the microbiome has also been shown to have important implications for women’s vaginal health. Prende also offers at-home testing for vaginal health, specifically for stubborn yeast and Bacterial Vaginosis, or BV, infections. Prende uses artificial intelligence, or AI, and machine learning, or ML, algorithms to help inform their clinicians, allowing them to form personalized care plans and patient treatment protocols. Patients can then retest as necessary to keep them on track with their treatment plan.
Genbioma is taking a different approach and has developed the first probiotic supplement for prediabetics. They are looking at how probiotics and gut microbiota can affect glycemic regulation in prediabetes. This scientific approach shows the potential of treatments and further innovation implications of the gut microbiome in helping regulate other systems in the body.
Evvy is another female-microbiome-focused company. Their offering is membership-based, and kits are HSA/FSA eligible and look at a wide range of bacteria and fungi. A one-year membership includes four tests per year, shipped every three months, free one-on-one coaching with every test, and access to their online portal to track changes over time. Evvy is for all women, whether just curious about their vaginal health or going through menopause.
Snapi looks at the infant microbiome, determining babies’ gut bacteria profiles. As the microbiome is formed at birth, developing a healthy microbiome so early in life is very important. Snapi also plans to help create the next generation of baby health and nutrition products. They offer a quarterly subscription or one-time test that allows parents to target gut microbiome deficiencies early to combat chronic conditions later in life, like asthma, eczema, diabetes, and more.
Given the importance of developing a healthy microbiome so early in life, Begin Health helps give parents an option to help create strong microbiome building blocks at a young age with their child-specific probiotics. The key ingredient in their probiotics is Human Milk Oligosaccharides, or HMOs, which help promote healthy bacteria in the gut.
Check out our overview of some additional trends alongside increased microbiome labs and testing that we are seeing within healthcare by watching the video below. See how healthcare is changing in 2023 and what the future of the space is set to look like.
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