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How gut microbes can help cancer treatment

At HolistX we are all about harnessing the power of the microbiome to maintain your health. But three recent publications have shown that your gut bacteria can even play a role in cancer treatment.

The first study [1] looked at the side effects of a drug called irinotecan, which is used to treat colorectal cancer. Typically this drug leaves the body through the gut in an inactive form, which does not lead to any problems. However, some gut bacteria can convert this molecule back to the active form, which can cause severe side effects including diarrhoea and damage to the intestine. It’s been suggested that prebiotics could be used to stop the bugs breaking down the drug’s inactive form.

Two further studies, just published in Science, [2,3] have shown how gut microbes can help make a different cancer treatment more effective. Immunotherapies are the hottest new cancer treatments; the new studies relate to a type of immunotherapy that blocks an “off-switch” in the immune system called PD-1/PD-L1 – encouraging it to attack tumour cells. However these therapies do not work in all patients, and this seems to be due in part to their gut microbiomes. For example, antibiotic treatment changes the microbiome and can reduce the effectiveness of the cancer treatment. The beneficial gut bug Akkermansia muciniphila is correlated with a good response and giving the bug seems to restore the effectiveness of the treatment [2].

The second study [3] looked at the gut microbiomes of patients undergoing a similar immunotherapy for melanoma. In this study, the effectiveness of the treatment was found to correlate with the diversity of the patient microbiomes and the levels of the Ruminococcaceae family of bacteria.

These new studies add a new dimension to the importance of the microbiome in health. Understanding the bugs that are present in the gut can be the first step to improving your health. Our HolistX “Test Your Poo” kits will report the diversity of your gut bacteria, and your levels of Akkermansia muciniphila and Ruminococcus.

  1. Guthrie L, Gupta S, Daily J, Kelly L. Human microbiome signatures of differential colorectal cancer drug metabolism. npj Biofilms Microbiomes 2017;3:27.
  2. Routy B, Le Chatelier E, Derosa L, Duong CPM, Alou MT, Daillère R, et al. Gut microbiome influences efficacy of PD-1–based immunotherapy against epithelial tumors. Science (80-. ). 2017
  3. Gopalakrishnan V, Spencer CN, Nezi L, Reuben A, Andrews MC, Karpinets T V, et al. Gut microbiome modulates response to anti–PD-1 immunotherapy in melanoma patients. Science (80-. ). 2017