In recent years, the gut microbiome has garnered significant clinical and popular attention as a critical component of overall health and wellbeing. As a burgeoning body of evidence reveals, gut health is a foundational element of whole-person wellness; imbalances and bacteria overgrowth have been directly linked to chronic diseases ranging from obesity to major depressive disorder. Most diseases are associated with changes in the types and behavior of gut bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microbes – including aging.
With symptoms ranging from fatigue to abdominal pain and discomfort, gastrointestinal disorders can present differently on a patient-by-patient basis, making these common conditions challenging to diagnose. An estimated 60-70 million Americans suffer from gastrointestinal (GI) disorders, in many cases unknowingly. Recent research published in Gastroenterology reports that over 40% of the global population has a functional gastrointestinal disorder (FGID) – which has significant adverse effects on quality of life and health care use.
According to data from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, GI disorders account for close to 50 million hospital visits and 21.7 million hospital admissions per year; they also lead to nearly 250,000 deaths annually. Furthermore, the treatment and management of gastrointestinal disorders give rise to $141.8 billion in U.S. healthcare expenditure, signaling an urgent need for increased awareness and clinical interventions.
In recent years, the role of the gut microbiome in human health and its influence on human diseases – including different types of cancer – has garnered increasing attention. At the same time, its role in cancer treatment has become more apparent with burgeoning evidence of the positive effects associated with gut microbiome modulation, implicating that it may impact patient responses to various cancer therapies.
A growing emphasis on precision medicine makes furthered knowledge and understanding of the microbiome’s influence on immune responses and cancer imperative. The discovery of strategies for manipulating the microbiome, to thereby augment therapeutic responses, relies on understanding the specific factors that influence gut microbiome mechanisms. Although several species of intestinal bacteria have already been linked to the enhanced efficacy of immunotherapies, exactly how the microbiome is able to enhance anti-tumor immunity remains in question.