Certain kinds of bacteria called fusobacterium can be found in some colon tumors. These tumor associated bacteria are believed to potentially help tumors grow and spread; however, their exact role in these tumors remains unclear. A flurry of exciting new research has focused on the topic and a new study in Science now sheds more light on these intriguing organisms and provides clues about how to more effectively treat colon cancers that harbor these associated bacteria.
In an analysis of colon tumors in patients, Dr. Meyerson and his colleagues found large numbers of fusobacterium associated with many tumors. Some of the tumors that had started in the colon had spread to the liver through a process called metastasis. Interestingly, these same bacteria were also found in the secondary liver tumors that had spread from the colon. Studying these bacteria in animal models of cancer, scientists found that the presence of fusobacterium seemed to help in both cancer growth and spread. Microscopic analysis of the tumor tissue revealed that the bacteria could stick to and invade nearby cells, thus potentially helping the cancer spread. Finally, to confirm that the bacteria were indeed helping the cancer grow, animals with bacteria-laden tumors were treated with the antibiotic metronidazole (known to kill fusobacterium efficiently), which resulted in a large decrease in tumor growth.
These results are exciting because they strongly suggest that the bacteria seem to be actively helping the cancer grow (and likely also helping the cancer spread). While more research is needed, these findings suggest that treatment of colon tumors that contain fusobacterium would likely benefit from the addition of a fusobacterium-targeting antibiotic.
To see the original paper, please click here.
To read about it in the news, please click here.