Could the microbiome change the future of cancer treatment?

We practice hand hygiene to help keep ourselves from getting sick from the bacteria all around us. But each of us already has a huge population of bacteria on and inside us: our microbiome. It’s impossible to count every cell and microbe, but it’s estimated that each person has at least as many bacteria in their body as their own cells, if not more. If we have trillions of bacteria all around us, then why aren’t we constantly sick? MD Anderson scientists are finding that the microbiome, especially our gut microbiome, plays an important role in keeping our bodies healthy. Improving cancer treatment for melanoma patients Immunotherapy drugs have been a great success for some cancer patients, training their own immune systems to attack the cancer cells. These treatments don’t always help, though, and as part of our Melanoma Moon Shot™, doctors have been searching for answers as to why some patients have great responses to immunotherapies and others don’t respond at all. Along with her team, Jennifer Wargo, M.D., co-leader of the Melanoma Moon Shot, is studying how the makeup of the gut microbiomes in her melanoma patients affect their response to anti-PD-1 immune checkpoint blockade therapies. Preliminary results show that the patients who responded best to the anti-PD-1 treatments also had the most diversity of microbes in their guts, as well as types of bacteria that are different than those who didn’t respond to the treatment. “Now that we’ve documented these differences, we’re hoping to find ways to help those patients who don’t have good responses on their own,” Wargo says. “The gut microbiome shapes much of...