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Thilini's Story

This page explores Thilini N. Jayasinghe’s role in the Gut Bugs team and the work she has done as part of the trial.

Thilini N. Jayasinghe


Processing other peoples’ poo - putting it into little capsules which can be swallowed like pills – was one of Thilini’s many tasks during the pilot study (a small study to test an idea) for the Gut Bugs trial.


Thilini N. Jayasinghe is part of the team of Gut Bugs scientists from the Liggins Institute, The University of Auckland. The “poop team” wanted to know if faeces (poo) from lean, healthy people could be transplanted into adolescents who were affected by obesity. 


Thilini completed high school and her university degree in Food Science and Nutrition in Sri Lanka. She liked science at school, being especially interested in medical science and human biology. In the final year of her degree, Thilini enjoyed completing some small-scale research projects. She decided to complete a PhD in medical sciences which could lead to a career as a medical researcher. A Masters degree was the next step on the path to a PhD. Thilini studied at Sydney University to complete her Masters in the field of molecular bioscience.


Nature of Science Ideas

  • Science is a collaborative process and scientists often work in teams
  • You don’t need to know it all… Science is about learning new material


Thilini was interested in research associated with the issues of diabetes and obesity. She found scientists at the Liggins Institute at the University of Auckland who were working in this area. The result was that Thilini came to New Zealand to take up a PhD scholarship at the Liggins Institute. Thilini’s PhD study became part of the Gut Bugs pilot trial. Her focus within the trial was to investigate how the gut microbiome changed over time. Other scientists in the team were also completing research or PhDs as part of the Gut Bugs trial.


Thilini studied the effects of lean donor faecal microbiota transplant (FMT) on the gut microbiota composition in a group of female adolescents who were living with obesity. Her results showed that faecal microbiome transplantation is capable of shifting the recipient microbiota successfully and that the transplanted microbiota remained unchanged for six months in spite of subtle dietary and environmental changes. 



Interestingly, Thilini had no knowledge of the gut microbiome or FMT before starting her PhD. She knew, however, that it was an exciting new area for research. Thilini’s first task was to read and learn. She started by writing a research paper on the use of faecal microbiome transplants in treating obesity. By doing this she learned about the context – and published a paper in a scientific journal. This paper has been read and cited many times.


Nature of Science Ideas

  • Science can be messy and unglamorous
  • Scientists’ work is challenging and varied. They work in the lab but also need to be able to communicate what they learn (their findings)


Thilini’s role in the Gut Bugs trial was to carry out laboratory work. She would get the stool (poo) samples from the lean healthy donors and process them to make the poo capsules which the participants would swallow. In the pilot project, these capsules were given to 12 adolescent females who were living with obesity, and who volunteered to be part of the Gut Bugs trial.



Thilini needed to find out how to store the capsules so that the good bacteria survived. She also conducted tests to find out which types of microbes were living in the stool samples. This meant that Thilini had to extract the genetic material (DNA) from the samples and sequence them to see which microbes were present. The lab work took a lot of time and Thilini found it difficult to balance this work with the important work of writing her PhD thesis. When a stool sample came in, she needed to process it immediately, even if she wanted to continue writing. But Thilini was excited and fascinated by her work.


Nature of Science Ideas

  • Science is innovative, exciting, and breaks new ground
  • Science is about uncertainty and unknowns


Because no one had tried to treat the condition of obesity with FMT before, the team had many questions to answer before they could begin to conduct the pilot study.



Thilini completed her PhD in Health Sciences during the Gut Bugs pilot study and now wants to do more research related to the gut microbiome. The pilot study answered scientists’ initial questions about whether FMT treatment might work. The team were able to continue to trial FMT with a larger group of people.


Thilini has some advice for anyone thinking about a career in medical research: “You should be very curious to know and learn. You should have background and understanding of science, but even if you don’t, you can read about new topics and get to know about it.” She adds that, as a PhD student, you are given many opportunities like the chance to travel, meet and talk to others working in the same areas of interest. Thilini went to the UK to present her research at a conference. She also travelled to the US where she was able to do a course to learn more about data analysis.




Nature of Science Ideas

  • Being a researcher means that you are doing challenging and absorbing work where learning happens every day – you need to find your way, develop techniques, find out how to do things, ask others and work with others