Gut-ting to Know You: Dr Chong Chun Wie

October 12, 2020

Dr Chong Chun Wie is a bioinformatician from Monash University in Kuala Lumpur. He is AMILI’s data science lead advisor, turning our gut microbiome research into valuable insights. We spoke with him to find out more about why he’s excited about the gut microbiome – read on!

AMILI: What attracted you to research in the gut microbiome?

CW: I am a microbial ecologist and I am always fascinated by how microbial community dynamics impact the functioning of an ecosystem. The human gut is a microbial-dominant environment that houses approximately a hundred trillion bacterial cells. The interaction within and across species in this complex miniature “ecosystem” is known to have a ripple effect on the health and wellbeing of the host. The aims of my research are therefore to understand the functioning of the host-microbial system, with the hope to facilitate gut microbial-based disease prevention and intervention approaches for various diseases.

AMILI: For the benefit of our readers, how is gut microbiome bioinformatics research conducted?

CW: The study of the gut microbiome is generally conducted through DNA sequencing. Bioinformatics is one of the critical steps of the workflow to assemble, bin, and annotate the sequencing data. Briefly, the assembled DNA sequences will be compared with relevant databases to infer the microbial identity (e.g. species) and functions (e.g. pathways). The abundance profile can then be used for advanced statistical analyses to evaluate the relationship of the microbial signatures with the level of specific biomarkers, demographics profiles, and diseases. In addition, the microbial data can also be subjected to machine learning techniques for disease prediction and classification.

AMILI: What are you currently working on?

CW: I am currently involved in a number of exciting studies. For instance, I am part of a research group consisting of neurologists, microbiologists, and chemists that uses a systems biology approach to understand the interplay between host metabolome, gut microbiota, and clinical representation in Parkinson’s disease (PD). Through a randomised control trial, we have also reported the beneficial effect of probiotics in alleviating constipation among PD patients. It is noteworthy that PD patients are very susceptible to constipation, which is a common early sign of PD.

Separately, I have obtained a research grant to study the relationship between the nasal pathobiont carriage rates and gut microbial variation in Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus patients. Diabetes patients are predisposed to infection, and we hope to identify microbial signatures that can be used for risk classification and to develop probiotic therapy.

I am also a member of the Malaysian Microbiome Project initiated by Monash University Malaysia. The objective of the project is to understand the lifestyle, nutritional, and environmental factors that make up the ethnic-specific gut microbiome in Malaysia.

AMILI: What are your predictions on which diseases will have gut microbiome-related interventions in the coming years?

CW: I personally see good promise in gut microbiome intervention for metabolic diseases such as obesity and diabetes mellitus. Gut microbiota is known to affects host metabolism and digestion. These, coupled with the success of several pre- and probiotics trials in animals and human may facilitate the development of complementary therapy for glycaemic and appetite control. The microbial profiles may also be used for periodic monitoring to assess the body responses to medication, and nutritional intervention. Additionally, gut microbial profiles can also be used for risk stratification and to provide early intervention to prevent and delay the development of metabolic diseases.

About the author

Dr Chong Chun Wie, BSc (Hons) Biochemistry, PhD (Microbial Ecology) is a Senior Lecturer at the School of Pharmacy, Monash University Malaysia, and serves as AMILI’s data science lead advisor. He is an experienced researcher in Antarctic soil microbial ecology and the human gut microbiome. He is also the resource person for bioinformatics and multivariate analysis for Malaysian microbiome research.

He has been involved in the analysis of microbiome from farm animals, preterm neonates, Malaysian indigenous populations, experimental animals (toxoplasmosis and trypanosomiasis), as well as diseases such as Diabetes Mellitus, Parkinson’s Disease, multiple systems atrophy, periodontitis, chlamydia etc.