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Gut Microbiome May Play an Important Role in Immunotherapy in the Future, But More Research is Needed


The microorganisms inside a patient's gastrointestinal tract may have a role to play in how immunotherapy can treat certain types of cancer.

The microorganisms and other genetic material present in the gastrointestinal tract — also known as the gut microbiome – could play an important role in the treatment of certain types of cancers, according to Dr. Jason Luke.

In an interview with CURE®’s sister publication, OncLive®, Luke, the director of the Cancer Immunotherapeutics Center at UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh, explained that while scientists are just now beginning to understand the impact of the microbiome when it comes to certain types of immune responses seen in some patients, more research is needed to determine how to use this information in future treatment plans.


One of the most interesting areas of research, I think, in oncology over the last few years has been the identification that the contents of the gut or the fecal microbiome can really (have an) impact on the outcomes of patients, especially with immunotherapy to cancer. We're only just beginning to understand this in any meaningful way, but several groups now have reported that certain kinds of bacteria being more present makes it more likely for the immune response to kick in and fight the cancer.

So, the question then becomes, is that a biomarker? Or is that something that we could modulate as if it's like a drug? And those are open questions. There are clinical trials ongoing to try to address this. On a practical level, however, patients really dig this. And they always ask about it. So, what can we do right now?

I think what we can say right now is that we don't know the answer. And we should not be recommending to patients that they take probiotics, because in fact, there's some evidence that actually suggests that probiotics might be worse.

More generally, what we do know is that just like everything else, three meals a day that are heavy on fiber and green vegetables are good for immunotherapy also. So simple stuff is the way to go right now, but this is definitely a space that's evolving and pretty exciting when we think about the future in terms of treatment.

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