In my parents’ generation, people suffered from stomach ulcers. Many thought it was caused by the stresses of modern life. Everything started to change in 1982 when two Australian scientists, Barry Marshall and Robin Warren, discovered in the stomachs of ulcer patients a new bacterium called Helicobacter pylori. This discovery allowed people with gastritis and ulcers to simply be treated with antibiotics capable of killing this bacteria. For having shown that these diseases were caused by bacteria, and therefore were nothing more than infectious diseases, the two scientists were awarded the Nobel Prize in 2005.
If you’ve read this article this far, you might be wondering what this story has to do with prostate cancer. The novelty is that a group of scientists decided to investigate the bacteria present in the prostate of healthy people and those suffering from prostate cancer, a study similar to the one that led to the discovery of the bacteria that causes ulcers. And the results are encouraging.
Prostate cancer is the most common in men, if we exclude skin cancer. In most cases, this tumor develops slowly. The problem is that there is a fraction of these tumors that are aggressive and can kill quickly. As the methods of knowing if a tumor is slow or fast are still poor, most doctors and patients prefer to remove the prostate as soon as a tumor is detected.
In this new study, scientists extracted prostate and urine samples from hundreds of healthy people and patients with prostate tumors. By sequencing the DNA from these samples and looking for typical bacterial sequences, the scientists discovered four new species of bacteria present in the prostate. Presence is associated with tumors and, more importantly, with the most aggressive ones.
This discovery sparked the start of studies to find out whether these bacteria are the cause of tumors or their spread throughout the body. In addition, it will be possible to investigate whether antibiotic treatments can prevent, cure, or avoid metastases. This result is preliminary, and the impact of this discovery on the treatment of tumors is still unknown: it can either radically modify this area of oncology (as happened in the case of intestinal bacteria), or it may be irrelevant. It’s too early to know.
INFORMATION: MICROBIOMES OF URINE AND THE PROSTATE ARE LINKED TO HUMAN PROSTATE CANCER RISK GROUPS. EUR UROL ONCO. HTTPS://DOI.ORG/10.1016/J.EUO.2022.03.006 2022
* IS A BIOLOGIST, PHD IN CELLULAR AND MOLECULAR BIOLOGY AT CORNELL UNIVERSITY AND AUTHOR OF THE ARRIVAL OF THE NEW CORONAVIRUS IN BRAZIL; LOTUS LEAF, MOSQUITO SLIDE; AND THE LONG MARCH OF THE CANNIBAL CRICKETS