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Cancer drugs possibly aided by gut bacteria

A new study suggests that bacteria in the human digestive system may aid the efficacy of cancer drugs by altering the way they work.

Immunotherapies can clear even terminal cancers in a tiny proportion of sufferers. These treatments enable the body’s own defences to tackle cancerous tumours. But a study by the University of Texas has discovered that people with a diverse range of bacteria in their digestive system are likely to respond better to treatment.

Our bodies are home to trillions of bacteria (microorganisms), and research suggests that these influence immune systems – they have been cited as factors in allergies and auto-immune diseases.

The chief executive of Cancer Research UK, Sir Harpal Kumar, said “Our bodies are filled with trillions of bacteria, and we are just beginning to scratch the surface of understanding their great potential. It’s really interesting and exciting to see new evidence emerge on the close connection between the immune system and the bacteria living in our guts. As this, and several other studies, have shown, manipulating these bacteria could be exploited in future to help patients respond better to treatment.”

Researchers compared the digestive system bacteria in the stools of 34 cancer patients. Of these, 23 responded positively to the therapy, the remaining 11 did not. The research suggests that ordinary gut bacteria could be responsible for the results. It is also possible that a diet high in fruit and vegetables could produce a richer community of bacteria, which may have caused the positive response.

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