OPTIMISTICC Research Program sheds light on importance of gut microbiome in colorectal cancer development and treatment
Opportunity to Investigate the Microbiome’s Impact on Science and Treatment in Colorectal Cancer (OPTIMISTICC) Research Program sheds light on the importance of the gut microbiome in colorectal cancer development and treatment.
This research program is an international collaboration that spans 5 countries and is working together to better understand how the gut microbiome impacts colorectal cancer. The team is addressing the challenge to “improve treatment responses by manipulating the composition and status of the microbiota”.
We as human beings have co-evolved with microorganisms, developing a symbiotic relationship where we depend on them and them on us for survival. For example, the primary source of vitamin K – a vitamin essential to the process of blood coagulation in the body – are bacteria, which colonize our large intestine. Without vitamin K, we would be unable to form blood clots when injured, causing us to bleed to death.
As such, we depend on microorganisms in and on our body to perform functions that are not coded for in the human genome; the microbiome performs functions our bodies are not prepared to carry out alone. While microbiomes can exist throughout our body depending on the organ, the gut carries the greatest number and diversity of microbes compared to any other part of the body. The gut microbiome influences the way our gastrointestinal cells behave and function, and therefore has an important role in maintaining our gut health. Research into the gut microbiome has shown, however, that it can also play a role in incidence and development of disease, such as colorectal cancer.
Researchers have determined that unique populations of bacteria that are not found in the normal, healthy colon are present in pre-cancers and colorectal cancers. These bacteria are referred to as the colorectal cancer microbiota or microbiome, and are found both within the colon, as well as in colon cancer metastases that have spread to other organs of the body. These microbes have been shown to influence cancer development by damaging DNA or by altering how the immune response responds to cancer cells. Furthermore, the microbiome has been shown to affect how patients respond to specific treatments. Current research is dedicated to better understanding how the microbiome actually does all this.
The main objectives of the OPTIMISTICC Research Program are to:
• Map the colorectal cancer microbiome
• Develop microbiome-targeted therapies for colorectal cancer
• Share and disseminate findings
With a better understanding of the underlying mechanisms that drive the relationship between the microbiome and a patient’s response to treatment, the hope is that this factor can be better controlled in order to improve treatments for greater patient benefit.