The bacteria that live inside you shape who you are on a pretty fundamental level--from your psychology to your body type. But new research also indicates that the billions and even trillions of tiny creatures in your body play a major role in the way you react to medical treatments...making your microbial ecosystem a literal matter of life and death. In the last few decades, one promising way we’ve started treating cancer is called immunotherapy. It activates the body’s own immune system to identify and attack cancerous cells. Scientists have been puzzled about why immunotherapy works so well in some patients, while in others it has little effect. And three recent studies indicate that it’s likely the patient’s bacterial populations that are the game-changer.
Researchers divided patient gut bacteria into the categories ‘good’ and ‘bad’, and patients with more good bacteria were the ones who responded well to treatment with immunotherapy--their tumors stopped growing or even shrank. Researchers then went on to demonstrate in mouse models that treating cancer patients with a cocktail of the ‘good’ bacteria improved their response to the immunotherapy. The theory goes that our microbiome is intricately linked to our immune system. Bad bacteria seem to inhibit our immune system’s proper functioning, while good bacteria help prep immune cells to be on the lookout for foreign bodies, like tumors. And we’re still unraveling how all these relationships work.
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