Photo by Mike Damron
San Diego scientists have shown that certain prebiotics, compounds that can cause bacteria to grow in the gut, can help mice fight skin cancer.
Scientists have known the microbiome, or the body’s mixture of bacteria, has an effect on the body’s response to medical conditions, but the link hasn’t been that well defined, said Ze’ev Ronai, a microbiologist at the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute in La Jolla.
“Three percent of our body or close to it is basically trillions of bacteria, different strains. And this is a mess because we are learning about different population dynamics that affect each other,” Ronai said. “And the ability to change the landscape of this bacteria and to get an effect on the immune system is a pretty pronounced achievement.”
To manipulate these bacteria, Ronai looked at how two kinds of prebiotics — mucin and inulin — work in mice with cancer.
Prebiotics are essentially food that encourages certain bacteria to grow in the gut, which can help regulate the body.
“Prebiotics represent a powerful tool to restructure gut microbiomes and identify bacteria that contribute to anti-cancer immunity,” said Scott Peterson, a professor at Sanford Burnham Prebys’ Tumor Microenvironment and Cancer Immunology Program and co-corresponding author of the study. “The scientific advances we are making here are getting us closer to the idea of implementing prebiotics in cutting-edge cancer treatments.”
Mucin is found in the intestine, while inulin is a fiber found in plants such as asparagus and onions.
“We simply added them either as a food additive or to the drinking water of mice for a couple of weeks, and after two weeks we asked if these mice would be able to better fight cancer,” Ronai said. “And they were able to reduce the load of cancer by about 50%.”
He said it is still way too early to see what this means for humans but it shows more evidence that gut bacteria could be a useful tool in fighting cancer.
“Future studies need to be conducted in more complex animal models of different genetic backgrounds and ages to address the complex nature of human tumors before we may consider evaluating these prebiotics in people,” Ronai said.
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