Research on treating ovarian cancer with the immunotherapy agent pembrolizumab is analyzing each participant’s microbiome as part of the trial.

Studying Immunotherapy Against Ovarian Cancer:

The 40 women in the study at Roswell Park Cancer Institute have recurrent ovarian cancer. They are getting a combination of anticancer drugs including pembrolizumab (Keytruda), bevacizumab (Avastin) and cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan). Keytruda is a relatively new drug that has been approved for treating melanoma and non-small cell lung cancer. This is one of the first trials to pit Keytruda against ovarian cancer.

Examining the Microbiome:

It is also the first cancer study to analyze samples from the stool, skin and vaginas of the volunteers, along with samples of their tumors and blood. The researchers want to know how the microbiome affects immune responses. With these data, they hope to discover whether an individual woman’s microbiome has an impact on the effectiveness of her cancer treatment.

Usually, the term microbiome describing the DNA of the microbes that normally live in our digestive tracts. That includes bacteria, yeast, viruses and other microscopic beings. It makes sense that these inhabitants can affect our digestive health. (To learn more about that topic, you might want to listen to this interview.)

The gut microbes can also have a significant effect on our nervous systems. (Here is an interview on that topic.) That seems less intuitive, though, and so does the potential impact of digestive tract ecology on the immune system. We found this a fascinating topic a few years ago. We will be interested to see what the scientists discover about the interaction between microbes and cancer immunotherapy.

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