A commonly known fact is that there are trillions of beneficial bacteria, viruses, and fungi that live within the human body. These bacteria are cultivated and grown through people’s everyday life and can are impacted by diet, medication, and even exercise regimen. Perhaps a lesser known fact is that the composition of each person’s inner bacteria, or microbiome, can vary significantly from person to person and that difference can have significant impacts on personal health – which range from weight management to efficacy of medicine. A recent study conducted by New York University found that the efficacy of certain cancer medicine is greatly influenced by the composition of patient’s gut bacteria. The significance of this study is not lost on the medical community – one of the struggles that cancer patients can face is the efficacy of treatment and the diminishing returns that some medication gives. Any edge that patients can get is well received, and can often mean the difference between life and death.
Imran Haque, an internist and general practitioner based out of North Carolina, is especially interested in learning more about how differences in gut bacteria makeup can have an influence on people’s everyday health. He knows that understanding the connections between all different parts of the body will lead to more effective medicines and treatments, and being able to understand the role that microbiomes play in the body is a step towards that future. Dr. Imran Haque will be relying on his extensive experience of over 15 years as a practicing doctor to explain how more research in gut bacteria and other microbiomes will lead to a future of more effective medicine.
Gut Bacteria Knowledge Today
Gut bacteria is probably one of the most researched and best understood microbiomes in the body today. Numerous studies have been conducted concerning gut flora to understand how it can impact various health aspects of people’s lives, ranging from efficacy of medicine to weight management. One study focused on the effects of gut bacteria on weight management in mice – in a test with one lean mouse and one obese mouse, researchers implanted the gut bacteria of the obese mouse into the lean mouse. The results were surprising – the lean mouse experienced rapid weight gain after the obese mouse’s gut flora was implanted, which indicates that factors other than diet and exercise can influence weight gain. This planted the seed that led to many other avenues of research on gut flora, and it was found that the composition of people’s gut flora have a direct correlation with increased risk of rheumatoid arthritis, schizophrenia, autism, and chronic fatigue syndrome. Dr. Imran Haque points out that being able to identify factors that lead to chronic diseases can allow preventative measures to be taken to minimize the risk of manifesting the illness. In this case, identifying how and what kind of gut flora composition leads to increased risk of certain illnesses can help minimize healthcare costs down the line, as small actions can be taken today to minimize risk for the future.
Gut Bacteria and the Efficacy of Medicine in Mice
The question on how gut bacteria can influence medicine efficacy rose during cancer drug testing in rats two years ago. Researchers were given two rats from different sources that had different gut flora, which resulted in the experimental immunotherapy to work better on mice from one source than the other. The study was focused on a type of immunotherapy known as a PD-1 inhibitor. PD-1 inhibitor is a type of treatment that fights certain cancers by blocking a “checkpoint” molecule on immune cells that cancers override to shut them down. While checkpoint inhibitor treatments have a great success rate in labs, the results in the field were very different – only 25% of patients responded to PD-1 blockers. The research team conducting the study noted that patients responded better to the treatment if their gut microbiome was altered – which also explained the discrepancy of results found between the mice from different sources.
Similar Findings in People: Gut Flora Can Impact Efficacy of Medicine
The team expanded their research on the effects of gut bacteria to include people as well. Two years after publishing a paper on how gut bacteria differences affect PD-1 inhibitor efficacy in mice, they published another paper that confirm the earlier finding on people. The research team examined 249 lung, kidney, and bladder cancer patients, of which 63 took antibiotics as a part of a regular routine. Antibiotics tend to be disruptive to the microbiomes in people’s body’s, as they wipe out wide swathes of bacteria at a time in hopes that hostile bacteria is wiped out in the process. As a side effect, many antibiotics tend to disrupt the delicate balance of beneficial microbiomes within the body. The research team found that patients who regularly take antibiotics experienced very different results than patients who did not take antibiotics – patients on antibiotics relapsed sooner and had a shorter overall life span. The results indicate that an imbalanced or damaged gut microbiome can greatly decrease the short and long-term benefits of PD-1 inhibation. This result was replicated multiple times for the PD-1 inhibitor procedure across different cancers – researchers found that implanting key, beneficial bacteria back into the patient greatly improved the benefits of the procedure in patients who regularly take antibiotic. Dr. Imran Haque knows that solidifying understanding and knowledge of gut flora can help the development of medicine leap forward by years.
Understanding Microbiomes is the Future of Medicine
Dr. Imran Haque believes that exploring the impacts of microbiomes is important to understanding the relationship between the different parts of the body. Gut bacteria is just one microbiome in the body, and research has already shown that the makeup of a persons’ gut bacteria can have tremendous implications for all aspects of their health. Microbiomes exist elsewhere in the body too, such as on skin, in the mouth, and in blood. Exploring and fully understanding how bacteria affect human health in other microbiomes can help explain more interactions in the body and help medical professionals better understand how minute changes in one part of the body can have rippling effects on overall health. Ultimately, Dr. Imran Haque believes that better understanding the body’s microbiomes will lead to more effective medicine in the future.