Transatlantic research group uncovers possible link between gut microbiota and cancer immunotherapy efficacy

An international team of experts headed by Prof. Dr. Eran Elinav of the Cancer & Microbiome Division of the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ), and led by Prof. Dr. Christoph Stein-Thoeringer, professor of Clinical Infectiology and Translational Microbiome Research at the Medical Faculty of Tübingen, reveals a possible link between gut microbiota and the efficacy of certain cancer immunotherapies. Published in the prestigious journal Nature Medicine, the study results suggest that antibiotic treatment prior to so-called CAR-T cell therapy is associated with unfavorable treatment outcomes.

Even though, according to recent preliminary studies, the risk of dying from cancer has declined within the European Union in recent years, cancers remain among the leading causes of death. However, there has been extremely encouraging progress in some areas, such as the fight against lymphoma using cancer immunotherapies with CAR-T cells. With the help of a genetic engineering process, the body’s own T cells can be converted in the laboratory into chimeric antigen receptor T cells (CAR-T cells) and then transferred back into patients. Equipped with these antigen receptors, the modified T cells are then able to seek out and destroy the tumor cells in the body.

Nevertheless, there are still large differences between the treatment results of patients. One possible cause here is the use of antibiotics. “We were able to show that treatment with antibiotics prior to CAR-T cell therapy has a negative effect on the success of cancer immunotherapy,” explains Prof. Stein-Thoeringer. “Using machine learning, a subfield of artificial intelligence, we were able to identify specific components of the microbiome that allowed us to predict the clinical outcomes of CAR-T cell immunotherapy by focusing on patients who had not previously taken antibiotics,” Prof. Elinav explains.

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