A recent article in the Washington Post highlights a link between the gut microbiome composition and cancer immunotherapy treatment outcomes. The human gut microbiome consists of a vast array of bacteria, fungi, phages and other microbes. The interactions between the microbes and their interconnection with the host affects host immunity, health and homeostasis. In this context, it may be unsurprising that changes to the gut microbiome may also influence cancer outcomes. According to several different studies, the gut microbial composition can modulate the success of a ground-breaking cancer treatment, immunotherapy. Cancer patients with certain gut bacteria had a better response to immunotherapy than patients who lacked them. Scientists from the University of Chicago demonstrated that feeding mice a strain of Bifidobacterium increased immune response against melanoma tumors and slowed their growth as compared to mice who lacked the bacteria. What’s more, combining the bacteria with immunotherapy nearly abolished the tumors. Human studies showed a similar immunotherapy outcome improvement in cancer patients whose guts had more microbial diversity, as well as a greater abundance of several microbes, including Akkermansia muciniphila and Bifidobacterium longum. Furthermore, new research highlights that consuming more dietary fibers and probiotics including Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus may improve cancer immunotherapy treatment. Giving patients a more fiber-rich diet of fruits, produce, beans, nuts and whole grains improves the microbiome and their odds of response to cancer immunotherapy treatment.
These impressive results led to a formal clinical trial at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, the largest cancer center in the United States. Hector Facton, a pediatrician undergoing immunotherapy treatments for Stage 4 melanoma in the clinical test, stated that he has been eating triple the amount of fruits and veggies than he used to eat, and adds he also eats lots of quinoa or anything else with lots of fibers in it. Although scientists caution against the strategy of using a fiber-rich diet to boost immunotherapy, as it remains clinically unproven, the clinical research is shedding new light on how the gut microbiome affects our ability to fight cancer. Cancer patients often want to know what they can personally do to improve their treatment outcomes. Although increasing fiber intake can be recommended by physicians, this clinical study will show definitively whether this is clinically significant in immunotherapy response, which may give patients a greater sense of hope and control over their disease. To read more please see the original article.