The Uterine Microbiome as a Biomarker for Endometrial Cancer
Posted 30th June 2017 by Jane Williams
Image credit: Hey Paul Studios, Flickr, licensed under CC BY 2.0
When asked about her team’s biggest success to date, Marina Walther-Antonio, a Mayo Clinic researcher, highlights the recently published study in Genome Medicine, identifying a unique vaginal microbiome for patients with endometrial cancer. This new discovery could lead to a biomarker for early detection and screening for the disease. It has led to similar research projects to study the impact of the microbiome on ovarian cancer.
According to Dr. Walther-Antonio, lead author of the first direct-assessment uterine microbiome study, researchers now know that the uterine microbiome and the microbes present in the vaginal environment of women with endometrial cancer are different from women without endometrial cancer.
“The populations of microbes found throughout the reproductive tract were shifted in the presence of cancer and hyperplasia (enlargement of an organ or tissue), and were distinct from the noncancerous cases” says Dr. Walther-Antonio.
Because of the modifiable nature of the microbiome, this discovery also holds the promise of a critical advance in endometrial cancer prevention. Researchers are investigating the possibility of using vaginal swabs as an early screening tool for endometrial cancer and noncancerous endometrial biopsies to identify patients who will develop endometrial cancer in the future.
“These findings provide important insights into the causes of the disease with broad implications for development of a measurable indicator in the early detection of, and screening for, endometrial cancer.”
Collaboration of a diverse team leads to discovery of unique microbiome
According to Dr. Walther-Antonio, her group’s success is based on collaboration among team members, each with diverse scientific backgrounds and unique perspectives. “Our team includes geologists, microbiologists, physicists, computer scientists and engineers, all working together to focus on the same problem” she says. “We have brought the developments and technology used to study the environment and applied them to the study of human organisms that impact health and disease.”
The goal of the research team was to restore a healthy balance in patients, rather than just focusing on the destruction of the disease. The researchers were the first research team to set up a systematic sterile microbiome tissue collection with the cooperation of surgeons, pathologists and associated medical personnel. This collaboration led to the discovery of the unique microbiome for patients with endometrial cancer.
“Good doctors treat the disease, great doctors treat the patient. I continue to be inspired by research, the medical environment and my colleagues every day.”
Dr. Walther-Antonio is an assistant professor at the Mayo Clinic Center for Individualized Medicine. Marina will be presenting at the Microbiome R&D and Business Collaboration Forum: USA.
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