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Mouth microbe promotes pancreatic cancer growth

by Coffee Table Science

With limited diagnostic and treatment options, pancreatic cancer remains one of the deadliest malignancies all over the world. Many aggressive forms of this malignancy exist, such as pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma with a survival expectancy rate of fewer than six months. Researchers at Virginia Tech University, U.S., have made a significant discovery that may play an important role in therapeutic interventions for the treatment of pancreatic cancer. They have unveiled the role of Fusobacterium nucleatum in the proliferation of cancer in the host bodies.

About Fusobacterium nucleatum

Fusobacterium nucleatum is a pathogen ( disease-causing microbe) commonly found in the oral cavity, often studied with mouth diseases such as periodontitis and gingivitis. Recently this gram-negative anaerobic bacteria has garnered the attention of the medical and research communities with its linkage to chronic diseases such as colorectal cancer. Now scientists have further uncovered how high levels of this microbe within the tumor environment correlate with resistance to chemotherapy in patients.

Image Credit- Wikimedia Commons

What did the researchers discover?

Studies published in recent years have showcased how bacteria can infiltrate the tumor microenvironment, drive cancer metastasis and make it resistant to chemotherapy. While Fusobacterium nucleatum in particular, was found to accelerate the growth of cells in pancreatic cancer, researchers were curious to know how the bacterium contributed to the disease. They carried out a series of experiments and even made use of in Vitro tumor-on-a-chip models to connect the missing pieces in this puzzle. 

Investigators confirmed that the microbe could bind and invade pancreatic cancer cells. These infected pancreatic cells were found to secrete inflammatory cytokines that provide resistance to chemotherapy and promote cell proliferation and migration. Another important discovery in this regard was that the microbe could even impact non-infected, normal pancreatic cells and make cancer more aggressive.

Image credit – Wikimedia Commons 

What is the significance of this discovery?

These discoveries have provided new insights into the role of non-cancerous cells surrounding the tumor cells and the aggressive spread of cancer. They prove that cells which get infected by the microbe are potentially more susceptible to cancerous growth at some later point and even more prone to metastasis (the spread of cancer cells from the place where they first formed to another part of the body). 

Scientists can now better understand how bacteria in tumors can affect the proliferation and spread of cancer. They can create more effective chemotherapy and immunotherapy treatments. Another significant aspect of the study is its role in the development of diagnostic and prognostic tools to help detect cancer earlier. 

Scott Verbridge, lead author who conducted this study in collaboration with Udayasuryan (alumnus, Virginia Tech) comments, “While we have shown that F. nucleatum is capable of driving pancreatic cancer cell proliferation and migration, we do not yet know to what extent these outcomes translate to living systems or human patients. These next steps will be important future work, which could ultimately teach us whether or not this knowledge could lead to more effective therapies that are tailored to a patient’s microbiome components.”

The research was published in the journal Science Signaling

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