Medically reviewed by Onikepe Adegbola, MD, PhD
A NIH-funded study from the National Cancer Institute has indicated an important scientific advance in cancer care. It is well known that tumor tissues have a distinct microbial presence (tumor microbial signature). In this study, the NIH researchers showed that the tumor microbial signature could be used to predict the outcomes of cancer. Moreover, the cancer response to chemotherapy could also be predicted by tumor microbial signature.
This 2022 study titled “Predicting cancer prognosis and drug response from the tumor microbiome” was recently published in Nature Communications. The NIH researchers used high-end genetic sequencing and Machine Learning techniques to identify tumor microbial signatures in this study.
The NIH researchers found that the tumor microbial signature alone was a better predictor of prognosis than existing methods in at least four cancers (adrenal cancer, cancer of the cervix, brain gliomas, and skin melanoma). The tumor microbial signature alone also better predicts response to cancer pharmacotherapy in five cancers, including breast cancer, stomach cancer, and sarcoma. The tumor microbial signature could also be combined with other tumor parameters to make more refined models.
Why Is This Study Important?
Currently, the tumor genes, along with other clinical parameters, are used to predict prognosis and drug response in cancer treatment.
Here, the NIH scientists used the microbial genes alone as well as in combination with tumor genes and other clinical parameters to predict cancer prognosis and treatment response.
This is an important breakthrough as it could potentially transform future cancer care via the integration of tumor microbiome assessment in cancer treatment decision-making in many types of cancer. But for this advancement to see the light of the day, it would require many more clinical studies.
This was a comprehensive study that examined the prognostic and therapeutic utility of tumor microbial signature in 32 types of cancer, details of which were available with the National Cancer Genome Atlas.
Another interesting finding of this study was the identification of tumor-specific tumor microbial signatures. Tumor Lactobacillales and Chlamydia were associated with cancer of the cervix. Similarly, tumor Ebstein-Barr virus and cyanobacteria were associated with breast cancer. On the other hand, Lactoccous was found to be associated with sarcomas.
What Are The Takehome Messages From This Study?
This study indicates that microbes can modulate patient survival and drug response in cancer patients. This is an extremely important advancement in the understanding of cancer.
This study also indicates that this microbial modulation of cancer is more pronounced in some cancer types than others.
The exact mechanisms behind the microbial modulation of cancer are not yet clear. The authors of this study suggested that the microbial effect on cancer could be mainly exerted by metabolizing drugs in the tumor microenvironment. Alternatively, changes in the immune response could also be mediated by microbes.
But one thing ascertained from this study is that the future holds plenty of opportunities in cancer treatment on the back of this knowledge.
Hermida, L. C., Gertz, E. M., & Ruppin, E. (2022). Predicting cancer prognosis and drug response from the tumor microbiome. Nature Communications, 13(1), 2896. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-022-30512-3