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Oral antibiotics stymie tumor growth

OCTOBER 22, 2018
Clinical Congress Daily Highlights, Monday First Edition

Antibiotics may become part of the toolkit for preventing the spread of certain cancers, if preclinical studies reported Monday can be replicated in humans.

Giving mice a cocktail of broad-spectrum antibiotics slowed the spread of pancreatic cancer to the rodents’ livers, said Saba Kurtom, MD, University of Miami (FL) School of Medicine. The antibiotics seem to wipe out gut microbes that meddle with the body’s cancer-fighting capabilities.

The body’s microbiome—the trillions of microbes that live in and on us—has been implicated in numerous disease states, including some cancers. Recent research suggests that gut microbes can interfere with the body’s ability to fight cancer by preventing immune system cells from attacking tumor cells.

Dr. Kurtom and her colleagues gave mice an oral cocktail of antibiotics twice a day for two weeks. Then they injected the mice with KPC cells to model pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma. The antibiotic treatment slowed the spread of the cancer to the liver. Additional experiments suggest that the antibiotic treatment influences the activity of toll-like Receptors, membrane-spanning proteins that detect molecules released by various pathogens and trigger further immune activity.

"The implications are pretty important," Dr. Kurtom said. "We've shown antibiotics decrease the tumor burden but also change the tumor environment."

Ongoing research by the lab should reveal how the microbial community is changing before and after the antibiotic treatment.

It isn’t clear yet how antibiotic treatment would play out with human patients. People with pancreatic cancer who receive antibiotics after a surgical procedure don’t seem to have better health outcomes, Dr. Kurtom said, perhaps because the infection that spurred the antibiotic treatment takes a toll.

View this study’s abstract online here.

Additional Information

The Scientific Forum, Surgical Oncology I, was held October 22 at the 2018 Clinical Congress of the American College of Surgeons in Boston, MA. Program, webcast, and audio information is available online at

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