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Can We Manipulate The Microbiome Against Cancer?

Posted on 16 March 2016

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Credit: Courtesy of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Credit: Courtesy of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

It turns out your microbial allies can aid cancer resistance and even improve immunotherapy results

“Five years ago, if you had asked me about bacteria in your gut playing an important role in your systemic immune response, I probably would have laughed it off. Most of us immunologists now believe that there really is an important interaction there”

It may sound unusual, but a number of studies are hinting that specific types of bacteria can actually help boost immune activity and improve cancer therapies too. One such study discovered that giving the species Bifidobacterium to mice could actually hinder skin cancer, and another confirmed that introducing certain species alongside immunotherapy treatment somehow activates the body’s response. This is curious stuff, and considering every one of us is harbouring trillions of bacteria at any one time, they could be a fascinating therapeutic target.

Science once glossed over the important role your microbiome plays in maintaining your health, but considering bizarre treatments like fecal microbiota transplants have shown efficacy in treating some gastrointestinal diseases and H. pylori can cause stomach ulcers, modulating your bacterial composition is starting to make real sense as a strategy.

“To therapeutically influence the microbiome long-term in humans is a big hurdle.The microbiome is very stubborn. Everything we’ve done so far has only had a temporary effect”

Altering a microbiome is no easy task, but considering immunotherapy results vary even within genetically identical mice, could bacteria be to blame? It’s not clear yet, but it’s a fascinating new development and millions of dollars are being poured into microbiome research around the world.

Engineering our microbiome is perhaps another solution too – introducing novel genes into certain species and allowing them to produce and funnel therapeutic molecules into your bloodstream through the gut or skin.

Read more at Bloomberg

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