A golden age in microbiome research

According to Dr. Jeremy Burton, we’re in a golden age of microbiome and probiotics research.

“Thanks to advancements in next-generation sequencing, we’re learning more and more every day about the impacts of the microbiome on the human body,” states Dr. Burton. 


Effective September 1, 2020, Dr. Burton has been appointed as Research Chair in Human Microbiome and Probiotics at Lawson Health Research Institute for a five-year term. As part of the Chair’s responsibilities, Dr. Burton will also assume the title of Director for the Canadian Centre for Human Microbiome and Probiotics Research, which is located at Lawson. 

Funded by an endowment through St. Joseph’s Health Care Foundation, the position is responsible for leading Lawson’s Human Microbiome and Probiotics research program. The specialized research chair was established at St. Joseph’s in 2007 as a result of a significant investment by Danone International, in recognition of groundbreaking microbiome research by Dr. Gregor Reid, the inaugural holder of the Chair. 

With extensive experience in both academia and industry, Dr. Burton is a world-renowned scientist specializing in urinary microbiome research. He points to the diversity of microbiome research at Lawson as a strength to be leveraged.

“Our program is conducting a diverse array of microbiota-related research from probiotic studies to fecal transplants to the investigation of drug-microbiome interactions,” explains Dr. Burton. “There’s a lot of interest in conducting microbiome research as it’s become clear how it affects so many human systems. We are also working with a number of other groups across the city – both clinical and basic sciences – to meet their microbiota-related research needs.”

There are two pillars to Dr. Burton’s vision for microbiome and probiotics research at Lawson. The first is advancing translational research that leads to improved patient outcomes, such as new microbial therapies. The second is improving our understanding of the microbiome by studying its function in real-time.

“In most studies, we collect patient samples, put them in the freezer and then analyze them later. We now want to follow people in real-time to get a better understanding of how the microbiome functions inside the human body,” notes Dr. Burton. “We hope to accomplish this by harnessing technologies already available at Lawson. For example, we’ve been collaborating with the Lawson Imaging program to look at bacteria in real-time using the Institute’s imaging technology.”

Dr. Kait Al and Dr. Jeremy Burton

Above: Dr. Jeremy Burton (right) in the lab with Dr. Kait Al (left), Postdoctoral Fellow

Dr. Burton is known for forging strong interdisciplinary relationships to enhance knowledge translation, especially within the Division of Urology.

“Dr. Burton has established a robust academic laboratory and strategic partnerships that are advancing the Institute’s scientific mandate. He is a natural leader,” says Dr. David Hill, Lawson Scientific Director. “As Research Chair in Human Microbiome and Probiotics, Dr. Burton will further Lawson’s reputation in the field.”

Dr. Burton will build on a 30-year legacy of microbiome research.

“There’s a long history of microbiome research at Lawson and St. Joseph’s,” he says. “We were lucky to have visionaries like Dr. Gregor Reid – my predecessor in this position – who have helped revolutionize the field.”

For Dr. Burton, this is the next step in an illustrious career with Lawson. He first joined the Institute and Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry as a Postdoctoral Fellow in 2001 after completing his BSc, MSc and PhD at the University of Otago in New Zealand.

“I had a very productive time as a Fellow, publishing something like 15 manuscripts in two years. It was an amazing experience and a time that I really relished.” 

He was then recruited to industry in 2003 where he developed a strong background in clinical trials and global business development.  

“Working in industry helped shape me into the principal investigator that I am today. But there were so many questions about the microbiome that I wanted to answer and I ultimately found myself back in academia.”

Dr. Burton rejoined Lawson as a Scientist in 2011. Prior to his appointment as Lawson Research Chair in Human Microbiome and Probiotics, he held the title of Deputy Director of the Canadian Centre for Human Microbiome and Probiotics Research since 2011 and Miriam Burnett Chair in Urological Sciences since 2013. He is also an Associate Professor in the Departments of Surgery and Microbiology and Immunology at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry. 

“What brought me back to London is the people and the collaborative environment. Researchers cross departmental and divisional borders with ease. As a scientist, I can walk from my lab to a clinic, and clinician-researchers can do the same in reverse. Everyone has a ‘can do’ attitude and they are willing to test big ideas with one another.”

Learn about recent microbiome and probiotics research at Lawson: