Dr. Maciej Chichlowski Receives Three-year Fellowship from the NIH and NCCAM


A native of Poland, Dr. Chichlowski received his Ph.D. in Physiology from North Carolina State University and, in 2009, started his postdoctoral research position at UC Davis working with Dr. David Mills. With the three-year Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service fellowship from the NIH and NCCAM, Dr. Chichlowski will continue his work in Dr. David Mills’ lab, exploring how bacteria interact with the gastrointestinal tract and focusing on the relationship between human milk oligosaccharides and the infant-specific beneficial bacteria strain, Bifidobacterium infantis. 

Dr. Chichlowski says that he enjoys the collaborative work in the Mills’ Lab, where different researchers with a variety of backgrounds and experiences interact and produce meaningful research. Dr. Chichlowski came to the Foods for Health Institute to contribute to that type of work culture. He says he fits perfectly in the Mills Lab because he feels that he is linking their work to his research on the intestine. He is able to bring a different perspective to the oligosaccharides project by focusing on the bifodobacteria mechanisms in the epithelium, or the most inside layer of the intestines. How is the intestine responding to different bugs, grown with different sugars? How are these bacteria affecting human health? These research questions are balanced by work he did previously as a postdoctoral researcher at Duke University, where he examined the bacteria in the gut from a completely different angle. Although he currently focuses on beneficial bacteria, Dr. Chichlowski worked with “bad” bacteria during his appointment at Duke to design models for studying inflammatory bowel disease. At the Foods for Health Institute, he keeps in mind the unique perspective of bacteria’s good and bad functions within the gut. 

These experiences inform some of Dr. Chichlowski’s primary research interests, and also provided the research question for his NCCAM grant application. He believes that his research fit the complementary or alternative medicine criteria of the fellowship because he focuses on breast feeding, which has been around for millions of years. Dr. Chichlowski’s work is not about creating a complex drug; it’s about understanding the relationship between bacteria, sugar, and humans. His work looks for solutions to health problems in a more natural way, and relates health problems to solutions like breast feeding or enhancing sugars in existing baby formulas.

Dr. Chichlowski’s work suggests that the sugars in breast milk help infant immune systems to mature  and that these sugars affect the  epithelium. The epithelium plays a critical role in the gut to secrete enzymes and absorb digested foods, which helps with digestion.  But the equally important role of the epithelium may be in the development of immune response. Dr. Chichlowski explains how the epithelium is supposed to allow digested materials into the body, but also keep the bad things out. Intestines are supposed to protect us by being permeable to some things, but not others. How might the oligosaccharides from breast milk make the function of the epithelium more efficient, or make the permeable process easier? 

Dr. Chichlowski is interested in learning as much as he can during the fellowship and to explore techniques and technologies that will enhance his work. Learn more about Dr. Chichlowski's work and publications on his Mills' Laboratory profile