Arthur Ouwehand: A Passion for Probiotics

Arthur Ouwehand

Arthur Ouwehand is an exceptionally busy man. A technical fellow and research manager at DuPont’s Active Nutrition division of DuPont Nutrition & Health, in Finland, he has authored more than 250 journal articles and book chapters. He is the editor of three books on lactic acid bacteria and the intestinal microbiota. He speaks fluent Dutch, English, Swedish, German and “functional” Finnish. And he’s also an adjunct professor in applied microbiology at the University of Turku in Finland.

Ouwehand was recently awarded the 2017 Pedersen Medal, an honor reserved for individuals who achieved scientific and technical breakthroughs that resulted in significant value for customers. Ouwehand has worked for DuPont for more than 13 years, and as a member of the faculty at Göteborg University in Sweden since earning his doctorate there in 1999.

“The research that my team and I have been doing here at DuPont has, of course, been aimed at supporting DuPont’s business,” says Ouwehand, about balancing his dual industry and academic lives. “Then, as a scientist in academia, I also get to try to lift the science to a higher level.”

Probiotics are Ouwehand’s passion. Live microorganisms that — when taken in sufficient amounts — have been shown to improve the health of the host.

“When I started in the probiotics business — maybe 25 years ago — it wasn’t very well known,” says Ouwehand. “Now it is mainstream. Most people have at least some understanding of probiotics and what they do, which is gratifying.”

Among other achievements, Ouwehand has documented how probiotics can reduce risk for respiratory infections and digestive problems.

In one study, Ouwehand identified how France could save hundreds of millions of dollars annually by using probiotics to reduce the risk and duration of respiratory tract infection, and reduce the risk of the diarrhea that is one of the most common side effects of antibiotics.

In another study, Ouwehand demonstrated that taking probiotics for abdominal pain — including the pain associated with serious conditions like irritable bowel syndrome — induces effects that are similar to morphine.

“We’ve published our results in Nature Medicine, which is about as good as you can get when you’re a scientist,” says Ouwehand.

Ouwehand says that he is driven in his work by the need to understand. “I'm a scientist. I like to know how things work,” he says. “Why are things the way they are?” Ouwehand’s balance of academic and industry research, sure seems to satisfy this deep need.