The Grapevine

Can Fungi In The Gut Cause Pancreatic Cancer?

Only 9.3 percent of people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer made it past the remission period between 2009 and 2015, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Researchers at New York University School of Medicine recently made some headway into the treatment of one of the top 10 most common cancers that is estimated to be diagnosed in 55,770 people in 2019. 

They studied the fungal microbiome, specifically the way certain species could cause pancreatic cancer, in a paper published in the journal Nature on October 2. Previously, bacteria and fungi were linked to colon and liver cancer. In a major breakthrough, researchers have observed a connection to pancreatic cancer for the first time, although the hypothesis is not new and was not well recieved before.  

The paper described how fungi travel from the gut in the opposite direction of digestive juices and reach the pancreatic duct. This is also the tube used by the pancreas to transport digestive juices to the intestine.  

Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDA) is one of three types of pancreatic cancers, and make up about 90 percent of all pancreatic cancer cases. Regarding the cancer and the multiplication of the fungi, the study stated “PDA tumors in humans and mouse models of this cancer displayed an increase in fungi of about 3,000-fold compared to normal pancreatic tissue." 

“While past studies from our group have shown that bacteria travel from the gut to the pancreas, our new study is the first to confirm that fungi too make that trip, and that related fungal population changes promote tumor inception and growth,” senior study co-author George Miller said in the news release. 

Pancreatic cancer risks A new study by New York School of Medicine traces how certain fungal species travel from the gut to the pancreas, and spread cancer. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Experiment Conducted On Mice

Over a period of 30 weeks, glowing fluorescent proteins were attached to the fungi to follow the route they took from the gut to the pancreatic duct within the mice studied. Genomic and statistical methods were employed by the researchers to study the different kinds of fungi and the rate of various fungi populations' proliferation. 

Significant differences were observed between the fungi found in the cancerous pancreas and healthy pancreas in mice and human tissue samples as well.  Among all the fungal species, the Malassezia species were present abundantly inside cancerous tissues, especially in comparison to other fungal species such as Parastagonospora, Saccharomyces and Septoriella. The other species also grew at a slower rate. 

The Malassezia genome sped up the growth of cancer by 20 percent, the researchers found. This does not happen in the presence of other fungi species along with it, according to a report by Medical News Today. Since the cause was identified, they were able to figure out which antifungal medicine is suited to bring down the tumor. The antifungal drug the researchers found to reduce the tumors weight by 20 to 40 percent is called amphotericin B. 

The drug coincedentally had more than one use. It also helped treat the early stage of pancreatic cancer and reduced it by 20 to 30 percent. Similarly, the treatment also aided the performance of the chemotherapy drug used to treat pancreatic cancer.