1. What is your role at your organisation and how do you support practitioners /or the industry?

I’m Rebecca Edwards, the Director of Education at Activated Probiotics. As a practitioner-only company, we love to provide in-depth education on the clinical application and mechanisms of action of our condition-specific probiotics. Education is a strong theme running through everything we do. Working closely with our brilliant research manager, Ben Makeham, I provide education for my brilliant team members, as well as our distributors. I also give frequent webinars on microbiome research and probiotics to practitioners across Australia, New Zealand, the UK, and Europe – in non-Covid times I love travelling around the country for in-person seminars and masterclasses, and have my fingers crossed we’ll be back doing these very soon.

2. How did you get into your area of expertise and why do you stay?

My first university degree was in English and History. I had no intention of doing anything remotely medical, as I’d grown up the child of a surgeon father and microbiologist mother; I think my Bachelor of Arts was a little act of rebellion! As with so many of us in the naturopathic space, I came to ‘this side’ of medicine when I had my own health challenges and found help from a naturopath. Over the twenty years of my career I’ve worked as a clinician, lecturer, and writer, with education always being the foundation of everything. I’ve been so fortunate in my life and my career, working in the UK, the US, and Australia. I now call Melbourne home, and have certainly found my calling as Director of Education for Activated Probiotics. What I have always loved is working with natural medicine, but I’ve frequently been frustrated with the lack of good quality evidence behind many of the interventions we employ. There is such an interest in the microbiome and its influence on all aspects of human health at the moment, and this has translated to a real flood of clinical research in this area. Working with a progressive and exciting company who use this cutting edge research to create unique evidence-based products makes my heart sing – I get to do all the things I love: interact with the gorgeous community of practitioners, sharing with them the fascinating stories of mighty microbes being uncovered by brand new research, and ultimately helping people all across the world by facilitating the use of our precision probiotics to address their health concerns. I honestly have the best job in the world.

3. What has been the main focus or outcomes of your work over the past year?

The past year has been a huge one for Activated Probiotics. 2021 has been the year we’ve launched into the practitioner world, so I’ve been hard at work introducing our range of evidence-based precision probiotics to practitioners around Australia, New Zealand, the UK, and beyond. We now have several thousand practitioners using our beautiful probiotics, and the world feels like our oyster. I’ve learnt to embrace Zoom, and have given well over a hundred webinars this past year! The focus of my work has very much been educating practitioners on the emerging research on the microbiome, and how the specific strains of probiotics we use can help them achieve positive clinical outcomes for their clients. On a wider level, for Activated Probiotics as a company, the focus has been on improving patient outcomes while making the business world of biotech a better place. We’ve just achieved certification as a B Corporation, which means we’ve been recognised as an ethical and progressive business. We’ve launched several new additions to our range this year, including a vaginal microbiome probiotic, and a probiotic for eczema. Plus we’ve partnered with two Australian universities to set up randomised controlled trials on several of our products. Even with the challenges of Covid, it’s been a stupendously productive and successful year, and I am excited to see what 2022 holds.

4. How has your field changed in the past 5 years? What new areas are emerging?

The field of microbiome research has changed so dramatically in recent times that I don’t think our company could have existed five years ago. The explosion of high quality research into specific strains of probiotic and their impact on health conditions has paved the way for practitioners to see that probiotics have a significant role to play in their clinical practice. There has been an elucidation in the understanding of the mechanisms of action probiotic bacteria perform. For example, the publication in The Lancet in 2019 of the randomised controlled trial examining the ability of Biome Osteo, a specific combination of probiotic strains to reduce the rate of bone density loss in post menopausal women sparked huge interest in the gut-bone axis. We’ve entered an era of greater acknowledgement of the importance of strain specificity, evidence-based, precision probiotics.

5. What do you predict will happen in the next 5 to 10 years in your particular field?

We have some VERY exciting new product developments to share next year. They will be continuing the theme of harnessing emerging research to target specific health concerns – and I think this reflects more broadly on the future of probiotics and microbiome research. I predict we’ll learn even more about the actions of specific strains of bacteria and grow our understanding of how to utilise them.

6. What is the one-way you believe natural medicine practitioners, can make a difference for their clients?

Education. The best practitioners, the ones who are booked out for months in advance, are not necessarily the ones with the highest IQ, the greatest knowledge, or the smartest business coaches. They’re the ones who are brilliant at explaining things to their clients, and helping them understand what’s happening and how to fix it. The greatest feedback I hear from the field is practitioners telling us that our education on probiotics has helped them explain to their clients why they’re prescribing probiotics, exactly what the probiotics do, and how the probiotics will interact with their immune system to help address their specific health challenge. An informed client is a client who is more likely to follow their treatment plan and see results, and I love love love that our education helps practitioners create informed clients.

7. Fun Fact for the Readers: Tell us who inspires you / or who your professional idol is and why?

I’m inspired by and grateful to all the women who have broken through the glass ceiling and persisted in order to have their voices heard in a man’s world. The sphere of medical research is infamously male dominated. We desperately need not only more women researchers and educators, but more research on women’s bodies. A particular hero of mine at the moment is Caroline Criado Perez, whose book Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men is an eye-opening expose. She discusses how medicine and research have, by failing to sex-disaggregate data, created an environment where women’s voices are unheard and women’s bodies misunderstood. The male body has always been seen as the default human, and until this changes, women will continue to be seen as ‘the other’. This is one of the reasons I love discussing research into the vaginal microbiome, and the impact of probiotics on fertility and post menopausal bone density.