Fungus is a telltale sign of cancer, possibly detectable by blood test: Israeli-American study

Fungus is a telltale sign of cancer, possibly detectable by blood test: Israeli-American study

Hunting fungi in the human body may offer a whole new method of early cancer detection, Israeli scientists suggest in new peer-reviewed research.

Together with colleagues in the United States, they studied the tumors of 17,000 cancer patients to document, for the first time, which fungi live in the tissues.

There has been very little research on fungi in tumors until now, and scientists had assumed that their occurrence was rare. “We were surprised to find that it’s actually more common to find tumors with fungi than without,” said Dr Ilana Livyatan of the Weizmann Institute of Science.

His team has created a groundbreaking ‘atlas’ on the subject and says it could be used to create new screening methods.

Because fungal DNA can be detected in blood, scientists hope blood tests can one day be used by doctors to detect cancer.

The “atlas” shows which fungi characterize 35 different tumor types, so such tests could potentially go beyond flagging the existence of cancer and pointing to where it can be found in the body.

“It could offer a new avenue for diagnosing cancers using a simple blood test that detects fungi in tumors,” Livyatan told The Times of Israel.

“And beyond diagnostics, it could really shake things up in tumor research. This is one of those telling moments that makes us rethink our assumptions about cancer, because fungi now represent a whole new consideration in tumor analysis,” she explained.

In this enlarged image from researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science, fungi, shown in pink, are shown inside the cells of a human ovarian tumor, whose cell nuclei are shown in blue (courtesy by Deborah Nejman and Nancy Gavert)

The peer-reviewed study, which was just published in the journal Cell, was a collaboration between the Weizmann Institute of Science and the University of California San Diego School of Medicine. Tel Aviv University and Sheba Medical Center also contributed to the research.

In recent years, scientists have begun to pay more attention to the fact that tumors harbor large populations of microbes. There have been several important studies – including one by the Weizmann team – of bacteria models in tumors, and this study puts the presence of fungi firmly on the research agenda.

The Weizmann-California team says that in addition to opening up a potential new avenue for cancer detection, their findings suggest that studying mushrooms in patients offers a treasure trove of information that could shape prognoses and plans. treatment.

They found many correlations between mushrooms and chances of survival. One was that when breast cancer patients had a specific fungus in their tumors – Malassezia globosa which is found naturally on the skin – it was actually correlated with increased chances of survival.

They also identified specific fungi in melanoma patients, which are found in greater quantities in those who respond well to immunotherapy compared to those who do not.

The team behind the latest research from the Weizmann Institute of Science (left to right) Dr Deborah Nejman, Dr Nancy Gavert, Dr Ilana Livyatan, Dr Lian Narunsky Haziza and Prof. Ravid Straussman (courtesy Weizmann Institute of Science)

Weizmann’s Professor Yitzhak Pilpel hopes that over the next few years scientists will elaborate on the fungus-cancer relationships and explore how the findings can be used to influence treatments. “This study sheds new light on the complex biological environment of tumors, and future research will reveal how fungi affect cancerous growth,” he said.

His colleague, Professor Ravid Straussman, noted that the new study suggests that fungal activity is “a new and emerging feature of cancer”, commenting: “These findings should prompt us to better explore the potential effects of tumor fungi and to review almost everything. we know cancer through a “microbiome lens”.

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