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How gut bacteria impact cancer treatment: Meet the STAT Madness 2018 editors’ pick

The idea came to her during someone else’s talk.

Dr. Jennifer Wargo listened as a researcher described mice responding differently to certain cancer therapies depending on the composition of bacteria in their guts. She was intrigued.

“I got up to the microphone, and I was like, ‘This is amazing! Have you studied this in patients?’” Wargo recalled. “They said they were planning to do so, but I saw this as a huge opportunity. … So I ran back home to MD Anderson and wrote a protocol.”

Three years later, Wargo, from MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, published her team’s findings in Science. On Monday, STAT announced that Wargo’s work was the “editors’ pick” in STAT Madness 2018, a tournament in its second year that highlights top projects in science and medicine.

“It’s a total honor,” said Wargo, adding that a clinical trial is now in the works to see if changing someone’s gut bacteria while they are in the cancer treatment she studied will improve their response to the treatment.

…For the clinical trial, Wargo is teaming up with the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy and Seres Therapeutics to test this idea out in patients with advanced metastatic melanoma who are on checkpoint inhibitors. They’ll look to see if changes to gut bacteria will improve their response to the immunotherapy.

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