CLOSE
iStock
iStock

Gut Bacteria Dramatically Boosts Cancer Immunotherapy

iStock
iStock

Science has confirmed that a balanced gut—where good bacteria outnumber bad—is often linked to a stronger immune system. Now, researchers in the lab of Thomas Gajewski, professor of pathology and medicine at the University of Chicago (UC), have discovered that good bacteria can also dramatically amplify the effects of cancer immunotherapy treatments. Their results are published in the November issue of the journal Science.

When the researchers introduced a particular strain of bacteria into the digestive tracts of mice with melanoma, they were startled to find it boosted the animals’ immune systems so effectively, the tumor-reducing effects were comparable to anti-cancer drugs known as checkpoint inhibitors, which keep the immune system from becoming overactive.

These inhibitors, however, which can be dramatically effective at reducing tumors when they do work, only do so in a third or fewer patients who use them.

The researchers already knew that gut bacteria had been shown to effect systemic immunity, but they came to their exciting discovery of its effect in cancer treatment by accident. Mice purchased from Jackson Laboratory (JAX) had a more notably robust immune response to small tumors implanted under their skin. Mice from Taconic Biosciences (TAC), however, showed weak immune response. When researchers put the mice from both sources together for three weeks, these discrepancies disappeared. They suspected that the mice shared microbes that enhanced their immunity.

“Gut bacteria influence the differentiation and function of systemic T cell subsets so that they respond faster and more efficiently to stimuli,” says lead author Ayelet Sivan, a Ph.D. student in Gajewski’s lab who designed and executed the experiments.

To test their theory that the microbes were responsible for the improved immune response, they transferred fecal matter from JAX mice to the stomachs of TAC mice, with positive results. The treated TAC mice had stronger immune responses and slower tumor growth.

When they compared the bacterial transfer effects with the effects of a checkpoint inhibitor drug, they found that the bacteria treatment was just as effective.

As soon as five days following the start of fecal transfer, Sivan says, “We saw that there was a delay in tumor outgrowth and that there was a boost in tumor specific immune responses.”

In their search for which specific bacteria made the difference, one genus stood out from over 254 strains: Bifidobacterium. Once identified, they treated the TAC lower-immunity mice with Bifidobacterium directly, without fecal transfer, and still, the immune boosting, tumor-fighting results remained high. 

As for how this occurred, the researchers suspect that Bifidobacterium, which appear to have colonized a compartment in the mouse intestines, interacted with roaming dendritic cells, which hunt for threats and present them to T cells. In response, the T cells attacked the tumors.

Sivan tells mental_floss that their study focused specifically on melanoma cancer because “it is well established that immunotherapies can be effective in melanoma, and that the immune response plays an important role in the control of melanoma growth and treatment.” But future research will look at other cancers that benefit from immunotherapies, as well as other bacteria strains. “There are many open questions as to the mechanism and signals through which Bifidobacterium leads to improved antitumor immunity, which may lead to novel therapies that may eventually replace the use of the bug itself,” she says.

They are eager to get to the stage where the bacteria can be tested for efficacy in humans and will continue to research other bacteria strains and their effect on antitumor immune responses. 

nextArticle.image_alt|e
REM-Fit
arrow
Live Smarter
Stop Your Snoring and Track Your Sleep With a Wi-Fi Smart Pillow
REM-Fit
REM-Fit

Everyone could use a better night's rest. The CDC says that only 66 percent of American adults get as much sleep as they should, so if you're spending plenty of time in bed but mostly tossing and turning (or trying to block out your partner's snores), it may be time to smarten up your sleep accessories. As TechCrunch reports, the ZEEQ Smart Pillow improves your sleeping schedule in a multitude of ways, whether you're looking to quiet your snores or need a soothing lullaby to rock you to sleep.

After a successful Kickstarter in 2016, the product is now on sale and ready to get you snoozing. If you're a snorer, the pillow has a microphone designed to listen to the sound of your snores and softly vibrate so that you shift positions to a quieter pose. Accelerometers in the pillow let the sleep tracker know how much you're moving around at night, allowing it to record your sleep stages. Then, you can hook the pillow up to your Amazon Echo or Google Home so that you can have your favorite smart assistant read out the pillow's analysis of your sleep quality and snoring levels the next morning.

The pillow is also equipped with eight different wireless speakers that turn it into an extra-personal musical experience. You can listen to soothing music while you fall asleep, either connecting the pillow to your Spotify or Apple Music account on your phone via Bluetooth or using the built-in relaxation programs. You can even use it to listen to podcasts without disturbing your partner. You can set a timer to turn the music off after a certain period so you don't wake up in the middle of the night still listening to Serial.

And when it's time to wake up, the pillow will analyze your movements to wake you during your lightest sleep stage, again keeping the noise of an alarm from disturbing your partner.

The downside? Suddenly your pillow is just another device with a battery that needs to charge. And forget about using it in a place without Wi-Fi.

The ZEEQ Smart Pillow currently costs $200.

[h/t TechCrunch]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Live Smarter
Want to Fall Asleep Faster? Add This Tweak To Your Bedtime Routine
iStock
iStock

There are countless reasons people have trouble falling asleep. It could be physiological, as in the case of airway-obstructing sleep apnea, or it could be because you’ve had too much caffeine too late in the day. But some of us experience delayed slumber for a different reason: Our racing minds can’t quite shift into a lower gear. If you fall into this hyper-vigilant category, there’s a side effect-free way to try and resolve the problem.

In a study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, researchers found that subjects who were tasked with writing out a to-do list for the following day (or days) before bed were able to fall asleep more quickly than other subjects who wrote about only what they had done that day.

The test, performed at Baylor University, recruited 57 people between the ages of 18 and 30 and kept them overnight in a sleep lab. Those who wrote down their planned tasks could use bullet points or paragraphs and fell asleep an average of nine minutes faster than subjects who didn’t. The more specific the list, the faster they were able to crash.

Researchers believe that the act of writing down responsibilities might be one way the brain can let go of a person’s obligations. (Thinking of what you have to do won’t have quite the same effect.) It was a small study, but considering how non-invasive it is, it might be worth trying if you're experiencing a lot of tossing and turning.

[h/t Travel+Leisure]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios