Microbiome topic of the day: radiation therapy and the microbiome

Just saw this interesting story in the Observer: Cancer scientists to classify gut bacteria to prevent the side-effects of radiotherapy | Science | The Observer.  It discusses an effort to give more consideration to protecting and / or repopulating the microbiome in relation to radiation therapy.  I think this is critically important.  I want to note – people should give some credit to DARPA for being ahead of their time on this issue.  I went to a workshop in 2004 organized by Brett Giroir and Manley Heather.  The topic was “Radiation Protection” and one of the points of discussion was the gut microbiome and the effect of radiation on it.

Anyway – since that meeting I have been following this topic on and off.  And I do think thinking about the microbiome in relation to radiation therapy (and any radiation exposure) is critically important.

Author: Jonathan Eisen

I am an evolutionary biologist and a Professor at U. C. Davis. (see my lab site here). My research focuses on the origin of novelty (how new processes and functions originate). To study this I focus on sequencing and analyzing genomes of organisms, especially microbes and using phylogenomic analysis

5 thoughts on “Microbiome topic of the day: radiation therapy and the microbiome”

  1. Jonathan,

    Did you read the actual article? What they're proposing to do is actually the opposite of what the title suggests, and it's a little scary.

    The point is to minimize an intense disruption to the microbiome, but it doesn't seem like that's what they are interested in at all. It seems their intent is to figure out what kind of bacterial profile will make the radiotherapy “more effective” and then to modify people's gut bacteria accordingly. And their proposed method?

    “One technique would involve administering medicines that would alter the makeup of a patient's population of gut bacteria. Alternatively their entire population of gut bacteria could be removed and replaced with another from a donor, a technique called a faecal transplant.”

    The idea that they will figure out the “right bacteria” any time soon, and try to proactively alter someone's gut based on that, is scary. They should be taking the opposite lesson — that we know less than we think we do, and should tread lightly so as to minimize damage. It's especially worrisome coming from someone who says something like this:

    “Men and women have a startling amount of bacteria in their stomachs…”


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