1. Please give a summary of your research.
Right now you have more than 100 trillion bacteria living in your gut and elsewhere in your body. In fact, there are more bacteria on and within you than all of your own cells combined. These bacteria are termed the ‘microbiome’ and are capable of colonising almost every niche of your body and, for the majority, they live in harmony with you. Unfortunately, these bacteria also possess particular adaptation mechanisms. When these mechanisms breakdown it may result in fatal consequences or disease states to arise within your body, such as cancer.
There is increasing evidence to show that the microbiome can influence the immune system when a patient has cancer. Different bacteria are found in normal tissues versus tumour tissue of individual patients, and appear to influence a tumour’s growth potential. There are many hypotheses how this might occur. One hypothesis suggests that there is a reaction between your microbiome and the tumour, which can influence the type and intensity of the body’s immune response. This response not only impacts the growth of the tumour but also the spread (metastasis) of that tumour.
The use of certain antibiotics can alter the composition of the microbiome within and lead to a completely different immune response to a patient’s tumour. Understanding how the microbiome impacts a tumour’s growth and metastatic potential (ability to spread) will help pave the way for more effective therapies and possible new (prophylactic) management options.
Through manipulating the microbiome after administering antibiotics, this project will test the effects of different bacterial compositions in the gut microbiome. This will allow us to ascertain how a tumour’s growth and its ability to metastasise is affected by a healthy, or unhealthy, microbiome. Thus, this project aims to investigate whether there are any underlying effects of the gut microbiome on breast cancer invasion and metastasis.
2. Please include any additional details you would like to share
It is increasingly recognised that the microbiome can change our mental and health status, or it can switch on a wide range of diseases. This project could open up new pathways to treating patients across the health continuum, including those with a cancer diagnosis. It is known that antibiotics can cause the microbiome to change and this can create an inflammatory state. Pathology such as cancer, cardio-metabolic diseases, allergies, obesity, anxiety, depression, bowel and liver problems can all stem from an imbalanced microbiome. This research project will analyse how a microbiome can be restored to the optimal state after the use of antibiotics.
Each person has a different proportion of bacterial species and strains in their gut and it is estimated that a quarter of the microbiota is personal and influenced by our own DNA. New research is reporting a strong relationship between the diversity of bacterial species and your ecosystem’s stability. It is now believed that microbial resilience, the amount of stress that the microbiome can tolerate, is determined by the microbiome species concentration and population variety.
A more complete understanding of these components is needed to be able to achieve therapeutic manipulation of the microbiome. It is also known that the immune system can react to unhealthy food in a similar way as to a bacterial infection, with short-term inflammation and a long-lasting genetic reprogramming of the immune cells. The metabolites produced by the microbiome in conjunction with an immune cell reaction to diet can increase inflammation within the microbiome and perpetuate an environment where disease can flourish.