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Texas State alumnus breaks ground in new field of scientific study

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Texas State alumnus Micah Eimerbrink was awarded the Dannon Yogurt and Probiotics Fellowship to support his research, which is focused on studying the body’s gut-brain relationship.

Eimerbrink, currently a Texas Christian University graduate student, received the $25,000 fellowship because his research involves a new and emerging field of scientific study.

“All of the other applicants had impressive projects as well, but he was the only one that stood out with a very innovative approach to the benefits of probiotics, which is the gut-brain interaction,” said Miguel Freitas, vice president of Health Affairs at the Dannon Company.

According to a Dannon news release, the main focus of Eimerbrink’s research involves the idea of a significant relationship between the gut and its influence on environmental perception.

Eimerbrink’s research focused on animals, conducting a series of tests which involved giving a group of mice a small shock and recording their reactions. Eimerbrink said these tests were humane, and the shocks given to the mice were only enough to startle them.

“We provided a probiotic supplement to a group of animals and then we looked at anxiety behaviors and fear-related behaviors in those animals,” Eimerbrink said. “(We) then found that we were able to reduce baseline expression of anxiety behaviors in the animals that had been treated with probiotics.”

Eimerbrink said the research supports the idea probiotic intervention can have a significant impact on the psychological perception of one’s surroundings based on the gut-brain interaction. This field is in its infancy, and while Eimerbrink has mainly focused on animal trials so far, there are also applications for human clinical testing.

“Once you find something in an animal model, then you try to find the same thing in a human clinical model,” Freitas said.

Freitas said he feels comfortable Eimerbrink is on the right track to applying his findings to humans.

“He’s adopting the right approach to his research,” Freitas said.

In the future, Eimerbrink said he and his department hope to apply what has been learned in animal trials to humans, expanding knowledge in this new and growing field.

“The direction that we are looking to take it in is looking to see how a microbiome intervention can influence an individual’s perception and experience of a stressful circumstance,” said Eimerbrink.

The fellowship provided by Dannon will aid Eimerbrink in expanding knowledge on the subject by funding his study of probiotics and their influence over physiology and psychology.

“100 percent of the money is going to fund future research,” said Eimerbrink.

Eimerbrink said he may not have ended up in his field of study if he hadn’t attended Texas State. While at Texas State, he gained the passion to pursue higher education beyond a bachelor’s degree and continue on to graduate school.

“I absolutely loved Texas State,” Eimerbrink said. “It was really the faculty there that helped foster the kind of ambition I had to pursue graduate school and things like that.”