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Longevity Briefs: The Microbiome and Cancer

Posted on 21 April 2021

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Longevity briefs provides a short summary of novel research in biology, medicine, or biotechnology that caught the attention of our researchers in Oxford, due to its potential to improve our health, wellbeing, and longevity.

Why is this research important: Our microbiome consists of the populations of microorganisms that live on our bodies surfaces, whether that be the skin, the gut or other mucosal surfaces. These populations are so vast that for every 1 human cell in our body, there are 10 microorganisms, living as part of us. The evidence that our microbiome has crucial roles to play in many human diseases is ever growing.

The exact contribution of microorganisms in causing and promoting cancers has been in dispute for hundreds of years. However more recently, there has been intriguing claims of the importance of microbes, including bacteria and fungi, in cancer and cancer therapy.

What did the researchers do: A team of researchers lead by Prof. Rob Knight, of the University of California, recently published a review in journal Science, of the causal and complicit roles that microorganisms play in cancer.

The paper provides a fascinating account of the history of humanity’s knowledge of this relationship, dating back to the Egyptian times. It goes on to discuss the ‘oncomicrobes’, the 12 microorganisms that are claimed to be responsible for ~13% of global cancer cases, and how exactly they cause this disease.

The microbiome at the crossroads between physiology and pathology in cancer. Source: Science

Key takeaway(s) from this research: The authors conclude that a more comprehensive understanding of the roles of microbes in cancer will allow us to improve each stage of the cancer care cycle. However, there are challenges – contamination, irreproducibility & patient toxicities – that must be overcome.

The authors suggest that the challenges would be aided by a multi-center, longitudinal, concerted effort to study microbiota in cancer. This would help facilitate a better understanding of the relationship, and may be a powerful new tool in our belt for improving patient care.

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