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Targeting the microbiome to improve cancer outcomes

University of Sydney

  • Cardiovascular Early-Mid Career Researcher Grant
Date Funded:
  • 1 July, 2023
Chief Investigator/s:
  • Dr. Erin Shanahan

Project Summary

This project seeks to translate knowledge of the gut microbiome into improved cancer immunotherapy treatment outcomes.

What is the issue for NSW?

Immunotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that reactivates a patient’s immune system to eradicate tumour cells. Immunotherapy has revolutionised cancer treatment in recent years, particularly for melanoma. However, not all patients respond well to these therapies and their cancer may still progress. Another key challenge is the high rates of side effects which can cause inflammation in various organs throughout the body. Currently, it is not possible to predict who will have a positive or negative response to immunotherapy, or who is at risk of side effects. Identifying patients who will (or will not) benefit from immunotherapy and developing intervention strategies to reduce side effects and improve response rates, will allow more people to benefit from these potentially life-saving treatments.

What does the research aim to do and how?

The gut microbiome (community of bacteria and other microbes in the gut) plays a role in how our immune system functions throughout the body. It has recently been identified as having an important role in determining how well an individual will respond to immunotherapy for cancer treatment, and whether they are at risk of side effects. Our research will identify which specific gut microbes are important. We will also test dietary modifications and probiotics as potential strategies to be provided alongside immunotherapies, to improve outcomes and reduce side effects.