People everywhere are talking about the microbiome — the colonies of microorganisms that inhabit, protect and nurture our bodies.
There was a time when, to most people, “bacteria” only meant “bad”. But now millions are embracing probiotics that contain good bacteria, all in the interests of maintaining a healthy microbiome.
But herein lies a problem: there’s a popular misconception that the microbiome contains nothing but bacteria. That’s a big mistake. The microbiome contains another world of living organisms that most of us have never considered: fungi.
The Master of the Fungal Universe
Over 40 years ago, a lone scientist began exploring this critical but neglected inhabitant of the human body. Born and raised in Lebanon, Dr Mahmoud Ghannoum is Director of the Center for Medical Mycology at Case Western Reserve University, one of the top 25 medical research universities in the United States (according to US News & World Report).
He began his scientific journey in England, studying candida, a species of fungi that, when allowed to grow uncontrolled, can cause Candidiasis, an infection that afflicts millions of people worldwide.
This provoked his curiosity about the whole area of fungal microorganisms in the human body. Through the next four decades of research, he discovered that while there was a massive rise in studies of bacteria, fungus was largely ignored. One reason is that fungal organisms tend to be highly unstable, making them extremely difficult to study.
For the longest time, Dr. Ghannoum’s work was known only to a minority within the scientific community. While many have heard of Candida, few people have any idea of the critical role that fungus plays in human health.
Through his research, Dr. Ghannoum established that fungal organisms constitute an essential part of the microbiome. In fact, in 2010, Dr Ghannoum was the first scientist to identify over 100 native species of fungi in the oral cavity.
Like with bacteria, there are good fungi as well as bad fungi. And just as it was startling to discover that we need positive bacteria in our guts, most people today are shocked to learn that their health depends on flourishing colonies of helpful fungi.
The Fungal-Bacteria Partnership
In fact, good fungi and good bacteria work in synergy to sustain a healthy microbiome. Unfortunately, the villains of the story also collaborate!
In 2016, Dr. Ghannoum discovered that harmful fungi and bacteria join forces to create digestive biofilm. This thin, gooey lining forms throughout our intestines, and very much like dental plaque it serves to protect bad germs hiding beneath the biofilm’s protective shield.
This is why taking care of your whole microbiome—fungi and bacteria—is so critical.
Recognition of Dr. Ghannoum’s work came slowly—but it did come. Today, he is acclaimed as the international authority on fungus within the human body.
In fact, he gave this microscopic world its scientific name, the mycobiome (“myco” meaning fungus). He is the author of over 400 peer-reviewed papers, and has been cited some 20,000 times in other people’s scientific papers.
To this day, Dr. Ghannoum lectures at major institutions around the world, ranging from the Institute Pasteur in Paris to the National Institutes of Health in Washington DC., which has extensively funded his research over the last three decades.
Through his work, he’s assembled the world’s largest collection of fungal strains outside the Centers for Disease Control. He has advised numerous pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies seeking to control fungi in our body.
His work has been reported in the prestigious Science magazine, as well as Scientific American, Forbes, NPR and USA Today.
A Family for Healthy Growth
One of Dr. Ghannoum’s unpublicized achievements has been to raise an exceptionally close and loyal family.
His son Afif didn’t pursue a scientific career, choosing law instead.
But his corporate law practice took him into the heart of the biotechnology industry.
This gave him a different perspective on Dr. Ghannoum’s work for other companies: Afif realized his father was delivering massive value for very little reward.
“I will never forget, when I was a young lawyer, my dad had this amazing invention to control biofilms in catheters. He was so incredibly excited about its potential, and he was over the moon when he was approached about turning his invention into a company. But when a group of business guys formed a company around his technology, he ended up with very little equity and almost no say on how the company was run. I just felt like he was being taken advantage of since he didn’t really get the business side of things. So I thought “why don’t we do this for ourselves? So we did!”
It was a matter of priorities: “I’m a scientist,” Dr. Ghannoum says emphatically, distinguishing himself from his business-minded son.
Afif suggested that the two of them should join forces, combining their different talents to launch a company. BIOHM was the result, a company founded to bring Dr. Ghannoum’s science to the world creating products based on new understandings of the microbiome.
“Our mission is to help people,” Dr. Ghannoum explains. “I just felt that we had to take my father’s expertise out of the ivory tower, and turn it into products that could really help people.”
The company began as a modest online enterprise in 2016, offering a range of products focused on gut health, and incorporating the missing link of fungal microorganisms. A volunteer army of “BIOHM ambassadors” helped spread the word and in a short time, tens of thousands of customers have experienced the transformative effects of balancing their total microbiome of bacteria and fungi.
For BIOHM, the research is never done: there’s intense work in hand to create personalized products based on the different microbiome types that Dr. Ghannoum’s team has discovered by analyzing millions of microbiome testing data points. “We’re committed to never-ending improvement,” the scientist explains. “As we create new innovations, and prove their value and safety, our customers will be the first to benefit.”
“For me, seeing how Dad’s science changes people’s health will never get old.” Says Afif. “It’s humbling to be a part of bringing that to life!”