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NCI to Fund Studies of Gastro-intestinal Microflora and Cancer

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – The National Cancer Institute will fund researchers who are studying the microflora of the human gastro-intestinal system with the aim of finding out how these microbes may be involved in the formation of carcinogenic tumors.

NCI said today it will support research projects that aim to create a mechanistic understanding of these diverse GI microflora, which are mostly comprised of bacteria but which also include fungi, archea, and viruses.

These multidisciplinary studies may involve an array of approaches that define and validate molecular mechanisms in GI microflora that could be involved in cancer, such as examining metagenomic data sets, or analyzing host or microbial genomes, proteomes, metabolomes, protein-protein interactions, and other methods.

The microbes of the human GI system are a "vastly understudied and complex ecosystem," NCI said, and there is growing evidence that they are involved in regulating host functions that are important for tumor formation, such as epithelial cell homeostasis, barrier function, mucosal immune responses, and host metabolism. Other research also has shown that microbial population imbalances in certain niches in the body can cause chronic inflammatory conditions and the production of carcinogenic metabolites, leading to the formation of tumors, NCI said,

Investigations looking into how these microbes are involved in GI cancers will require the development of new in vitro and in vivo model systems that may use meta-omic data or other large data sets that "identify critical microbial populations, species, functions, and host interactions for mechanistic studies."

NCI said these studies may involve, but are not limited to, investigations of the mechanisms involved in microbe-induced DNA damage, chromosomal instability, or inhibition of DNA repair pathways; proteomic analysis of bacterial modification of bile acids; studies of mechanisms of precancerous changes in intestinal epithelial cells in response to microflora perturbations; microflora-induced changes in tumor microenvironment; research into host or microbial factors that contribute to increased susceptibility or protective effects against GI cancers; and others.

NCI has not set a total funding amount for this program.

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