New research to investigate role of gut bacteria in breast cancer

29th May 2024

Dr Stephen Robinson and his team will investigate the function of gut bacteria in breast cancer, and how we could use it to fight against the disease, thanks to new funding from Breast Cancer Now.

Bacteria living in our gut can affect our immune system and previous research in other cancers has shown a connection between healthier gut bacteria and better overall outcomes for patients.

When breast cancer spreads to other parts of the body, it becomes incurable. Cancerous cells can spread in many different ways, including by manipulating the immune system to prevent being killed.

Breast Cancer Now has awarded £249,065 to Dr Stephen Robinson from Quadram Institute and University of East Anglia to study the composition and function of the gut bacteria in oestrogen receptor (ER) positive breast cancer.

Up to 80% of women with the disease are diagnosed with ER-positive breast cancer, making it the most common type of breast cancer.

Stool samples will be taken from women who have recently been diagnosed with ER-positive breast cancer and are yet to begin treatment. Further samples will then be taken from the same women at various stages, such as during and after treatment, to see how gut bacteria change during the course of the disease.

The team will compare samples from people who respond well to treatment to people who don’t, to analyse any differences in their gut bacteria and see if it’s possible to predict the outcome of treatment based on this information.

Using mice, the researchers will also investigate how gut bacteria influence the immune system. The team will test specific bacteria species that have been linked with better treatment outcomes alongside bacteria linked with poorer outcomes, to see how the bacteria affect the progression of breast cancer.

Dr Stephen Robinson at the Quadram Institute said: “Evidence shows that certain bacteria living in our gut can help slow the growth and spread of cancers, including breast cancer. These findings are particularly important given that breast cancer treatment may disturb normal gut bacteria.

“We’re looking into how exactly the bacteria help our bodies prevent cancer from progressing, and whether standard treatments are affecting this.”

Breast Cancer New logoDr Simon Vincent, Breast Cancer Now’s director of research, support and influencing said: “This project will provide crucial insights into the role gut bacteria play in breast cancer. It could help us develop new approaches to treatment that use gut bacteria to activate the immune system and reduce the chance of breast cancer spreading and becoming incurable.

“With around 11,500 women tragically dying from breast cancer each year in the UK, we urgently need to find new ways to prevent the disease spreading, and treat it effectively when it does.”


Banner image credit: Sally Dreger and the Quadram Institute Advanced Microscopy Facility 

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