Federal grant fuels research in harnessing micro-organisms for cancer immunotherapy

Providence researchers awarded funding from National Cancer Institute to study “Bugs as Drugs"

Can micro-organisms in the human digestive tract improve outcomes for cancer? What types of micro-organisms are found in cancerous tumors? How do these micro-organisms contribute to the success or failure of cancer immunotherapy?

These are some of the questions investigators at Providence Cancer Institute will be asking as they embark on a new research project funded by the National Cancer Institute, a part of the National Institutes of Health.  

William Redmond, Ph.D.and Annah Rolig, Ph.D., members of the Cancer Immunotherapy Lab at the Earle A. Chiles Research Institute, a division of Providence, will lead the project. 

The NCI awarded the researchers $430,000 over two years through an R21 grant mechanism to support the exploratory development of novel microbial-based cancer therapies, also known as “Bugs as Drugs.”  

Just as micro-organisms live within healthy tissues, they also reside in cancerous tumors. They can be found in early-stage tumors and cancers that have spread throughout the body, making the microbes an essential component of the cancer’s environment. Yet the types of microbes that reside in tumors and how they contribute to the body’s anticancer immune response are unknown. 

In earlier studies, Drs. Redmond and Rolig analyzed microbes found within tumors from patients with head and neck cancers that were not associated with human papillomavirus. They also evaluated the patients’ responses to immunotherapy.  

We found that increased numbers of microbial species in the patients’ tumors correlated with increased responses to immunotherapy,” said Dr. Rolig. “Our findings suggest that the community of microbes in the tumor play a pivotal role in influencing the response rate to immunotherapy.”  

The new grant award will support their efforts to gain a better understanding of the micro-organisms present in the tumor, their origin, and their influence on response to immunotherapy.  

Ultimately, our goal is to increase the number of patients responding to immunotherapy. We hope the knowledge gained from this research project can be leveraged to develop effective bacterial-based treatments for cancer,” said Dr. Redmond.  

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