LONDON, ONT -- A new study out of London, Ont. is shedding light on the role your gut, and the bacteria within, may play in the effectiveness of some cancer treatments.

The study from the Lawson Health Research Institute and Western University was focused on how the gut microbiome (the collection of bacteria in the gut) interacted with oral medication in prostate cancer patients.

However, the findings may have ramifications for other cancer treatments going forward.

“When drugs are taken orally, they make their way through the intestinal tract where they come into contact with billions of microorganisms,” says Dr. Jeremy Burton with Lawson, the lead researcher on the study.

It’s those microorganisms that may be playing a significant role in outcomes for some patients.

Traditional prostate cancer therapies are designed to deprive the body of hormones called androgens, which are responsible for prostate cancer growth.

Abiraterone acetate is an oral treatment when traditional methods don't work.

“While it’s long been a mystery why abiraterone acetate is so effective, our team wondered if the gut microbiome plays a role,” said Burton.

The team studied 68 prostate cancer patients at London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC) and found that in those taking the oral treatment the gut activated the drug to increase a bacterium called Akkermansia muciniphila.

That bacterium has been shown in other studies to facilitate a better response to cancer immunotherapy drugs.

The increase in the bacterium also led to an increased production of vitamin K2, which is known for anti-cancer properties that can inhibit tumour growth.

“These findings clearly demonstrate that the gut microbiome is playing a role in treatment response,” said Burton.

The team is now exploring whether drug-microbiome reactions may improve treatment outcomes for other diseases.

In one study they are looking at whether fecal transplants can change the microbiome in melanoma patients to improve their response to therapies.

“While more research is needed, we may one day be able to analyze a patient’s microbiome to determine the best course of treatment or even influence the microbiome to improve outcomes, “said Burton

“This could lead to a new frontier in personalized medicine.”