Gut bacteria could help cancer patients respond to certain drugs

A new study shows that microbes in the gut could affect how well people respond to new wave cancer treatments.
By Jason Spencer | Nov 07, 2017
Cancer patients with high levels of good gut bacteria may be more likely to respond to immunotherapy in a positive way than those who have low levels of such microbes.

This finding, which comes from researchers at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas, could be important for future research. It is also one of the latest examples of the significance of the microbiome -- the community of microbes living inside the human body -- and suggests that patients may one day be told to actively nurture their good bacteria when taking PD-1 drugs for serious diseases.

"You can change your microbiome, it's really not that difficult, so we think these findings open up huge new opportunities," explained study author Jennifer Wargo, a researcher at the MD Anderson Cancer Center, according to Reuters.

Manipulating the microbiome is fairly simple. You just need to change your diet, avoid antibiotics, or take probiotics. Such alterations could be key in aiding future studies because positive bacteria help prime immune cells for PD-1 drugs.

Currently, only 20 to 30 percent of patients respond to new wave cancer medication. As a result of that low number, researchers have tried to find better ways of identifying people that could benefit from groundbreaking treatments. The new information laid out in the study could be a way to make that happen.

This research builds on past trials conducted in 2015 that looked at the connection between immunotherapy drug responses and the gut bacteria in mice.The team hopes to further such studies by next running aclinical trial to test the benefits of combining immunotherapy with microbiome modulation. That process could open up new ways to use modern medicines that, while highly effective, only work in certain patients.

"Our hypothesis is if we change to a more favorable microbiome, you just may be able to make patients respond better," added Wargo, according to BBC News. "The microbiome is game-changing, not just cancer but for overall health, it's definitely going to be a major player."

The findings are detailed in a pair of scientific papers published in the journal Science.

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