In a recent study published in Nature, researchers found certain fungi move from the gut to the pancreas, expand their population more than a thousand-fold, and encourage pancreatic cancer growth.
The study offers strong evidence that the mycobiome—the local mix of fungal species in the pancreas—can trigger changes that turn normal cells turn into pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma or PDA. This form of cancer is usually deadly within two years.
The research is from the NYU School of Medicine and the NYU College of Dentistry. One author is George Miller, MD.
In the study, the team examined mice and patients with pancreatic cancer. They found that fungal species travel into the pancreas up the pancreatic duct, a tube through which digestive juices drain in the opposite direction into the intestines.
The team says this exchange results in abnormal fungal populations in both the gut and pancreas in the presence of PDA.
They also found that treating mice with a potent antifungal drug reduced their PDA tumor weight over the 30 weeks by 20 to 40%.
The study confirms that fungi make that trip, and that related fungal population changes promote tumor inception and growth.
The team says Malassezia fungi—generally found on the skin and scalp— are responsible for dandruff and some forms of eczema, but recent studies have also linked them to skin and colorectal cancer
The findings add evidence that Malassezia is abundant in pancreatic tumors as well.
The team explains that fungi increase cancer risk by activating an ancient, first-responder part of the immune system, the complement cascade.
Such mechanisms fight infections, but also trigger the healing process (cell growth) as infections wane. Along these lines, the complement has been shown by past studies to encourage aggressive tissue growth (cancer) when combined with genetic flaws.
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