The Tumor Microbiome
An article in The NY Times caught my eye two weeks ago. In it they discussed that cancer tumors are rife with bacteria and fungi in a rich ecosystem called the tumor microbiome. I have on past occasions written about the importance of having a vibrant microbiome of beneficial bacteria in our intestinal tract, how it functions in producing beneficial vitamins and helping detoxify chemicals in our environment that may be harmful to us. However, in 2020, several research teams have shown that tumors are home to various kinds of unfriendly bacteria and fungi and two studies published in the journal Cell specifically imply that we may one day be able to find early signs of hidden tumors by measuring the microbial DNA that they shed into the blood. There is also a possibility that this research may reveal why certain tumors are more aggressive or resistant to treatments. Ravid Straussman, a cancer biologist at the Weizmann Institute and Dr. Narunsky Haziza collaborated on one of those studies and think this could revolutionize cancer treatments in the future. In 2017, Dr. Strausman and his colleagues found bacteria living inside pancreatic tumors that could block the drug given to treat the tumor. It is not just bacteria that are residing in tumors. Fungi, of which there are 6.2 million species, are also taking up residence in tumors. According to Iliyan Iliev, an immunologist at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York, some fungi are beneficial, and others are not, and they have found fungi in tumors from seven parts of the body including the mouth, esophagus, stomach, colon, rectum, breasts, and lungs. Dr. Iliev and his colleagues found that people were more likely to die of stomach cancer if their tumors contained a species of fungus called Candida tropicalis.
Dr. Sepich-Poore and colleagues in San Diego have founded a company called Micronoma to turn their research into a blood test for cancer. However, to do a large-scale DNA analysis of the exponential number of bacteria and fungi that inhabit diverse types of tumors will be a huge undertaking and I am doubtful of its ability to achieve foolproof predictive cancer detection soon. What I am hopeful of and pleased to see, is the direction that these researchers are heading in. Alternative physicians have long been aware of the repercussions of an altered microbiome in the gastrointestinal system and how overgrowth of abnormal bacteria and fungi could be associated with many chronic health issues.
This is a term describing when the altered microbiome of bacteria or fungi in the body becomes firmly entrenched and can be unresponsive to either medical antibiotics or herbal interventions. A biofilm is not a rogue single bacterium with this ability, it is more like an army of bacteria or fungi that acts like a hostile community of soldiers within our borders. The biofilm acting together can rob us of minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and other nutritional elements to ensure their own survival. Plaque on our teeth is a biofilm and the easiest way to picture this. Chronic rhinosinusitis is one of the more common problems attributed to biofilms. Other commonly associated conditions would be chronic Lyme disease, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, interstitial cystitis, GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), and Irritable Bowel Disease. While diagnosing a biofilm is extremely hard to do, the closest way is a stool analysis to see if there are abnormal bacteria or yeast in the gastrointestinal tract. However, if the symptoms are neurological, then this testing method could lack in accuracy unless the patient has a condition called leaky gut syndrome.
Bacteria exist in two states, a planktonic state where they are free floating, and a sessile state where they adhere to a surface. It is in the sessile state where they form a protective “slimy shield” covering called an exopolysaccharide matrix (EPS) which serves to protect the community of bacteria. After antibiotic therapy as few as 1% of the bacteria can enter a dormant stage and then reactivate themselves to repopulate the biofilm. These bacteria are persister cells.
Isaac Eliaz MD is a doctor who has been working in integrative medicine since the 1980’s with a focus on cancer, immune health, detoxification, and mind-body medicine. He is a pioneer and researcher with eighteen research articles to his credit. His work on Galectin-3 got my attention while researching this newsletter. Galectin-3 is a normal carbohydrate binding lectin found in our bodies used to look at cardiac risk. However, at elevated levels Eliaz finds it also serves as a marker for the infrastructure or latticework in biofilms. This structural resistance is why biofilms have been so hard to treat. By measuring Galectin-3 on a blood test, any elevations, can give you an idea if someone has biofilms. Dr. Eliaz has found that modified citrus pectin has a unique ability to break down Galectin-3 and using it in combination with anti-microbials you can have better success at removing this stress to our immune systems. Can biofilms be a precursor to “the tumor microbiome?” Dr. Eliaz thinks so and is using Galectin-3 levels as one of his markers in evaluating all his cancer and chronically ill patients.
There are good biofilms and bad biofilms, but it is the bad biofilms that plague traditional medicine with those who use catheters, or have heart stents, and pacemakers. Biofilms have also plagued alternative medicine doctors treating persistent chronic health problems such as those with chronic Lyme, S.I.B.O. (small intestine bacterial overgrowth), and chronic inflammatory bowel syndrome, all of which affect millions of people.
If biofilms are a precursor to the development of tumors with Galectin-3 as the building block for biofilms to persist, then a new understanding for the onset and treatment of many health problems including cancer is upon us.