Research Highlights

Gut microbes enhance cancer treatment

Published online 3 December 2013

Aisha El-Awady

The microbiota living in the gut can affect inflammation, both locally and throughout the body. As inflammation plays a role in the development and treatment of cancer, researchers have questioned whether the gut microbiota can influence cancer or responses to its treatment.

A team of researchers led by Giorgio Trinchieri and Romina Goldszmid of the National Cancer Institute in Maryland, USA, and including Francesco Marincola from Sidra Medical and Research Centre in Qatar, attempted to answer this question by injecting mice with tumour cells after treating them for three weeks with a powerful cocktail of antibiotics, to remove the gut microbiota.

The results, published in Science, showed that the mice responded poorly to anti-cancer treatment. When they were given the anti-tumour CpG-oligonucleotide, the mice did not show the normal tumour-destructive immune response, and the growth of the tumours was not slowed. Platinum chemotherapy in the mice was also less effective at inducing tumour regression and improving survival than in mice with normal gut biota.

These results show that antibiotic-induced perturbations in gut bacterial composition, which can be long-lasting, have significant effects on the ability of cancer treatments to effectively reduce tumour volume and improve survival in mice. According to Trinchieri, "the next important step will be to extend these studies to patients in order to understand the relevance for clinical applications."


  1. Iida, N. et al. Commensal Bacteria Control Cancer Response to Therapy by Modulating the Tumor Microenvironment. Science (2013) doi:10.1126/science.1240527