Chemotherapy saves many lives, but in some patients such treatment is ineffective and the cancer continues to grow. Researchers have identified a number of cell types and factors that confer such chemotherapy resistance, but there has been a surprising recent addition to that list: bacteria. The chemotherapy drug gemcitabine, used to treat a wide variety of cancers including those of the pancreas, bladder, breast and lung, can be taken up and metabolised by certain bacteria rendering the drug inactive, studies have shown. In mice with colon cancers, for example, bacteria present in the tumours conferred resistance to gemcitabine, whereas co-treating the animals with antibiotics reinstated the drug’s cancer-killing effects. Furthermore, gemcitabine-metabolising bacteria (green) were also discovered in human pancreatic cancers (cells pictured). This suggests that combination therapies of gemcitabine and antibiotics might be an effective strategy for treating pancreatic cancer patients in whom chemotherapy isn’t working.
Written by Ruth Williams
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