A new study by researchers from the University of Michigan and China shows that a common gut bacteria interferes with chemotherapy in colon cancer and leads to resistance and recurrence of the disease.
The bacteria, Fusobacterium nucleatum, keeps the cells in a state known as autophagy, which prevents the normal cell death process induced by the chemotherapy drugs. With autophagy activated, the cancer becomes resistant to chemotherapy.
F. nucleatum is a common bacteria found in healthy people. Weiping Zou, a UM professor and lead author on the study, says that it's not clear yet why the bacteria causes problems in some patients and not others. "We think—we don't have data by the way—that the imbalance of the microbiome in the gut means this bacteria is enriched, maybe because of the chemotherapy itself," Zou said.
The discovery of the bacteria's role in chemotherapy resistance may lead to improved therapies in the future if the bacteria can be targeted. It is not yet known if this organism affects chemotherapy for other types of cancers.
The study is published in the journal Cell.