Is the microbiome involved in colorectal cancer? A superstar team of researchers backed by $25 million aims to find out.
The microbiome—the normal microbes we all have in our gut, is being increasingly linked to multiple aspects of health and disease. Now one of the world’s biggest cancer charities, Cancer Research UK has dedicated up to $25 million to finding out if it is linked to development of colorectal cancer, the third most common cancer in the U.S.
There are many lifestyle factors that influence people’s risk of developing colorectal cancer. Researchers are discovering that the impact of some of these factors on the microbiome, such as diet and obesity, may play an important role in colorectal cancer development, progression and even response to cancer drugs.
The ambitious project involves 14 investigators spread between six different countries, but is led jointly by two U.S. researchers; Professor Matthew Meyerson of Dana-Faber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School and Professor Wendy Garrett from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Meyerson specializes in cancer genetics and Garrett’s expertise is immunology and infectious diseases.
“The colon is the most densely populated microbial environment on the planet. Our tumors and cancers also harbor microbes that can contribute to whether we respond to a drug or not. There are wide opportunities for thinking about cancer risk, development, treatment and cancer care through the lens of the microbiome,” said Garrett.
One bacterial species called Helicobacter pylori has long been accepted to cause stomach cancer, but its link to colorectal cancer is uncertain, although there is growing evidence to suggest it is involved in some cases. There is also much interest in bacteria found in normal gut microbiome that are not currently thought to have any role in disease.
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