A translational research update from Dr Sarah Hayes:
I am pleased to report that 2022 has been an exciting year for research into the role of the gut microbiome in cancer!
We have known for a few years that there is a complex relationship between a person’s immune system, the trillions of microorganisms that colonise their gut, and the behaviour of their GI cancer. Understanding this relationship is vitally important as it influences how the cancer responds to treatments designed to stimulate or suppress the immune system (immunotherapy), which is increasingly being used to fight GI cancers.
Microorganisms live everywhere in the human body, even inside tumour cells. In fact, the presence of bacteria living in tumour tissues was identified more than 100 years ago, but these bacteria are only present in small populations within the cancer and were thought to be non-viable, which made conducting experiments into their role on the behaviour of the tumour impossible.
Improving our understanding of the microbiome
In 2022, with the use of more advanced sequencing methods, we now know that these microorganisms living within tumours are viable and active, with researchers only now starting to understand the importance of these microbes within the tumour in how the cancer progresses and responds to treatment.
A couple of months ago, scientists working in this field around the world were astonished to find out that even fungi can be found within GI cancers and could be used to predict a patient’s prognosis or if the cancer is likely to spread around the body.
Our new microbiome research
Here at the GI Cancer Institute, we are also investigating the importance of the microbiome on how our patient’s GI tumours react to new treatments. One key component of our NEO-IMPACT trial involves delving deeper into the role of the gut microbiome on a patient’s response to a new chemotherapy and immunotherapy combination treatment in patients with pancreatic cancer.
This project, in partnership with the UNSW Microbiome Research Centre, provides a unique opportunity to assess the relationship between the patient’s immune system and the resident microbes throughout various time points on their treatment. We are currently collecting patients’ samples prior to treatment, during treatment and after the surgical removal of their tumour, with the same advanced sequencing analysis to be performed once all the samples have been collected.
By developing a greater understanding of the role that the immune cells and gut bacteria have on the tumour and vice versa, we may be better able to predict those patients that may have a longer survival and provide a platform to develop better treatment options in near future.
How you can help
Make a donation today and help fund the NEO-IMPACT translational research study.