Dr. Ghizlane Bendriss

Assistant Professor of Medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar (WCM-Q) 

“Our main objective is to educate our audience about advances in medicine.”

Ghizlane Bendriss is a neuroscientist who obtained a PhD in neurophysiology and neurobiology and a Master’s degree in cognitive neuroscience from the University of Aix-Marseille, France. Dr. Bendriss obtained her diploma in lifestyle medicine from the International Board of Lifestyle Medicine. She is currently Assistant Professor of Biology at Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar, where she teaches neurosciences and biology in the premedical division and leads numerous research projects and Continuing Professional Development (CPD) activities around the gut-brain axis, including the role of the gut microbiome in health and diseases. She is the lead investigator of the first music-based clinical trial registered in Qatar, which explores the EEG and emotional correlates of Middle Eastern music modes or ‘maqams’ in a multiethnic population. She is the founder of the Mind & Music Association in France, which aims to promote equity in access to music culture and raise awareness of the power of music to influence health. 

Her research team published two reviews in 2020 on the role of the microbiota in asthma and atopic disorders as well as an exploration of the high-level taxonomic bacterial diversity in neurodevelopmental and gastrointestinal disorders. In addition, she is a co-investigator of a research project aiming to explore the probiotic content of dairy products in Qatar.

What was your motivation to create the Role of the Gut Microbiota in Health and Disease online program as a Continuing Professional Development activity at WCM-Q?

The role of microbes was becoming increasingly essential in our understanding of diseases, as noted by the significant number of publications on microbiota during the past ten years. If you look at the number of publications including the term “microbiota” in 2017, there were about 9,111 studies on the PubMed database. However, out of those 9,111, only three were from Qatar. Only two research studies were running in Qatar on the microbiome at that time, and it was clear to us that there was a need to raise awareness of this paradigm shift that is affecting all health sciences. In 2017, a quick survey among 44 healthcare professionals showed that 88.6% of them admitted they were not knowledgeable of the role of microbiota in inflammatory bowel diseases or in neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorders. 

Neurosciences were the first to experience a paradigm shift with the identification of the hut as the “second brain” and the existence of the gut-brain axis. Today, scientists are talking about the gut-skin axis, gut-liver axis, gut-lung axis, gut-heart axis, gut-kidney axis, gut-muscle axis etc. In 2021, the PubMed database recorded 20,277 studies including the term “microbiota” and more than 25,000 including the term “microbiome”. Through this CPD activity, I wanted to let professionals be aware of what is happening in research and how these new discoveries could not only benefit their practice but also completely change it in the future.

Why did you choose to run it as an enduring material (online modality)? 

The content of this course is dense and mostly about filling gaps of knowledge. It was more appropriate to run this course in a self-paced manner, so participants could read, watch and reflect on the material at their convenience before taking the required tests for validation of the course. The evidence that is presented comes from fundamental and clinical studies and can only impact practice after awareness has been raised. For this reason, the online model was a good way to reach out to more people and easily disseminate a foundation of knowledge the about latest advances in this area from around the globe.

Please describe the program you created.

This program is constituted of eight modules, the first one being a pre-test to evaluate the participant’s knowledge before taking the course. This is an important step to create self-awareness about knowledge gaps and trigger curiosity in the participant’s mind.

The subsequent modules discuss the role of the gut microbiota in health and diseases, the role of nutrition, probiotics, antibiotics and the latest advances in using fecal transplants to treat various diseases. Technologies used are also described to allow the participants to understand the published scientific literature and stay updated.

In short, this course provides the essential tools to healthcare professionals to understand and stay up to date with the growing number of studies published daily on the role of the gut microbiome in many healthcare specialties.

What factors influenced the type of training you developed? 

It actually all started with a very personal story. I suffered from complications of Crohn’s disease ten years ago. As I was searching and reading to find out solutions, I came across what I never would have thought would become the center of my studies: the gut microbiota. One book, “Breaking the Vicious cycle” of the Canadian scientist Elaine Gotshall was like a revelation to me; she claimed that through nutrition and probiotic intake, inflammation could be controlled and gut dysbiosis treated, and that could solve many symptoms not only in inflammatory bowel diseases but also in neurodevelopmental disorders like autism, because there was a link between the gut and the brain. To me, a neuroscientist, that was an illumination. When I found out that thousands of studies have actually been done worldwide, and that dysbiosis has indeed been associated to almost all modern diseases, I realized that we were living a paradigm shift and not many people were aware of that. So, I decided to let people know. 

Who is the target audience and what is the benefit of healthcare professionals undertaking this training? 

All healthcare professionals can benefit from this course, from the dentist to the physiotherapist, to the nutritionist, to the physician, to the surgeon and so on. This is because the gut microbiota composition is influenced by all lifestyle components: nutrition affects the gut microbiota, stress affects the gut microbiota, physical activity, sleep, drugs can all affect the composition of microbes. Studying the gut microbiome emphasizes that various specialists have to work together in an integrative manner to approach a disease. 

At the end of this course, participants are able to: 1/ describe the general principles governing interactions between gut resident microbes and humans; 2/ identify the numerous facets of human biology that are influenced by the gut microbiota in health and disease; 3/ define the factors that can alter the microbiota in everyday life, including antibiotics and diets, which directly impact microbiota composition and function; 4/ explain the principles behind the use of fecal transplants, the potential benefits and risks; 5/ discuss the incorporation of gut microbiota analysis into the daily practice of medicine.

How would you envision the future of this activity and topic?

This online course is a real update on the role of the gut microbiota in health and diseases for those who have never heard about that. I recommend it not only to healthcare professionals but to anyone who would like to understand the importance of our microbes in current diseases. This course can greatly influence people on the impact of living a healthy lifestyle and raises the question of the danger of antibiotic misuse.  This topic is expanding in all directions of health sciences, as gut microbes have been found to interact with almost all organs and it is important that, with the fast-paced development of findings, healthcare professionals stay updated with the current clinical trials and options available to them. 

How do you intend to develop the training you offer in the future?

After taking this course, participants could benefit from having a closer look at evidence of the interactions of the gut microbes with their respective specialties. For example, the gut-skin axis for dermatologists; the gut-brain axis for neurologists and neuropsychologists; the gut-liver and gut-pancreas axes for endocrinologists and many more. You’ll be amazed at how microbes can play important roles in the pathogenesis of diseases or maintenance of health. Microbial composition can be modulated by nutrition, by probiotic intake, and by stress and physical activity; these are important variables that health professionals should consider in their practice from now on. 

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