Scientists Are Using Your Body’s Bacteria To Battle Cancer, Is It Working?
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Scientists Are Using Your Body’s Bacteria To Battle Cancer, Is It Working?

The bacteria that live inside you shape who
you are on a pretty fundamental level–from your psychology to your body type. But new research also indicates that the billions
and even trillions of tiny creatures in your body play a major role in the way you react
to medical treatments…making your microbial ecosystem a literal matter of life and death. Yeah, hi, it’s me, your favorite microbe
geek here. As we discover more and more about how the
bacteria inside us influence our lives and our health, we also discover more places where
this relationship is really important–and one of these areas is cancer. Yup, it turns out that your body’s bacteria
play a HUGE role in how you respond to cancer and its treatment…and they could hold the
key to the future of how we treat this disease. In the last few decades, one promising way
we’ve started treating cancer is called immunotherapy. It activates the body’s own immune system
to identify and attack cancerous cells. Scientists have been puzzled about why immunotherapy
works so well in some patients, while in others it has little effect. And three recent studies indicate that it’s
likely the patient’s bacterial populations that are the game-changer. Researchers divided patient gut bacteria into
the categories ‘good’ and ‘bad’, and patients with more good bacteria were the
ones who responded well to treatment with immunotherapy–their tumors stopped growing
or even shrank. Researchers then went on to demonstrate in
mouse models that treating cancer patients with a cocktail of the ‘good’ bacteria
improved their response to the immunotherapy. The theory goes that our microbiome is intricately
linked to our immune system. Bad bacteria seem to inhibit our immune system’s
proper functioning, while good bacteria help prep immune cells to be on the lookout for
foreign bodies, like tumors. And we’re still unraveling how all these
relationships work. Immunotherapy is just the beginning. It’s been demonstrated that bacteria can
also be used directly to kill tumors. As in, you can inject bacteria into a tumor
area and watch as they grow to literally suffocate and starve the tumor, because they’re eating
everything the tumor needs to grow. It’s called bacteria mediated tumor therapy,
and it’s surprisingly effective…but perhaps not-so surprisingly, you do then have the
problem of a potentially dangerous bacterial infection that you now need to treat. Balancing that is tricky and has hindered
the progress–and popularity– of this treatment method. 7. Bacteria also tend to produce something called
a biofilm, which is one of my favorite bacterial behaviors. When there’s a certain number of bacteria,
called a quorum, they start to bind together, forming a mass of cells that behaves more
like a single unit than like individual bacteria. Some research shows that biofilm formation
actively disrupts and blocks tumor metastasis, suggesting it could be useful in stopping
the spread of cancer while the patient goes through treatment. And it doesn’t stop there. Bacteria can also be genetically engineered
to detect cancer’s movements–a probiotic form of E. coli, for example, can be taken
by a patient whose subsequent urine output will indicate whether their cancer has metastasized
to their liver–because of the way their body processed that bacteria. As living breathing organisms themselves,
bacteria are constantly producing lots of enzymes and proteins and hormone-like chemicals,
to communicate with each other, to help them eat stuff, to generally just help them live
their little lives. Some bacteria produce toxins that help them
kill whatever wants to eat them, and in some cases, this protein–called a bacteriocin–can
also be toxic to cancer cells. It can be used to aid the effect of certain
cancer drugs, or on its own to tackle tumors in a huge variety of cancers. And even aside from being used directly, bacteria
can be modified to carry targeted cancer treatment to the necessary tissues. But while our invisible, microscopic friends
can help us in the face of this disease, they can actively hinder us, too. A seminal study revealed that in some patients
who didn’t respond well to chemotherapy, bacteria inside their tumors disable those
drugs to protect themselves, meaning the drugs can’t do any damage against the tumor either. This discovery was actually a pretty huge
revelation in our understanding of why some peoples’ systems react to cancer treatment
so differently. And it brings up the question: antibiotics? Or no? Obviously we don’t want bacteria that neutralize
our cancer drugs, but can we get rid of them while also keeping the ‘good’ bacteria
that help our immune system? Not to mention the potential risk of accidentally
creating cancer-drug-killing bacteria that then become antibiotic resistant, which would
be no bueno for anybody. This field is so. exciting. And we’re only just beginning to understand
and take advantage of it. This basically opens up a whole new dimension
in personalized medicine and could give us a much more detailed understanding of the
diseases that plague us, and how to treat them. Special thanks to our sponsor today, Domain dot com is awesome, affordable, reliable,
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online and visit domain dot com. If you think bacteria are as cool as I do
then check out my other video on how your gut microbes are controlling your mind. And fun fact? One of the most prevalent ‘good’ bacteria
that doctors found in patients who responded well to treatment is called Bifidobacterium
longum. Good goin’, little guy. Make sure to keep coming back for all things
microscopically creepy crawly, and thanks for watching Seeker.


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