Skip to Content
77 Mass Ave

Bacteria help lung tumors grow

An immune response creates a hospitable environment for cancer.
April 24, 2019
Image of bacteria
Image of bacteriaChengcheng Jin

MIT biologists have discovered a new mechanism that lung tumors exploit to promote their own survival: they alter the lung’s bacterial populations, provoking the immune system to create an inflammatory environment that helps tumor cells thrive.

In mice genetically programmed to develop lung cancer, those raised in a bacteria--free environment developed much smaller tumors than mice raised under normal conditions. And treating the latter mice with antibiotics resulted in tumors that were about 50% smaller. Giving them drugs that blocked the immune response also significantly inhibited tumor development.

“This research directly links bacterial burden in the lung to lung cancer development and opens up multiple potential avenues toward lung cancer interception and treatment,” says Tyler Jacks, director of MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and senior author of a paper on the work published in Cell; postdoc Chengcheng Jin was lead author.

Lung cancer, the leading cause of cancer--related deaths, kills more than 1 million people worldwide per year. Up to 70% of patients also suffer complications from bacterial infections of the lung.

Mice (and humans) typically have many harmless bacteria in their lungs. The mice engineered to develop lung tumors harbored fewer bacterial species, but their lungs’ overall bacterial population grew significantly. That caused immune cells called gamma delta T cells to proliferate and begin secreting cytokines, inflammatory molecules that promote tumor growth.

The researchers’ analysis of human lung tumors revealed unusually high numbers of gamma delta T cells and altered bacterial signals similar to those seen in the mice, so they believe drug treatments like those that inhibited mouse tumor development are worth testing in humans.

Keep Reading

Most Popular

DeepMind’s cofounder: Generative AI is just a phase. What’s next is interactive AI.

“This is a profound moment in the history of technology,” says Mustafa Suleyman.

What to know about this autumn’s covid vaccines

New variants will pose a challenge, but early signs suggest the shots will still boost antibody responses.

Human-plus-AI solutions mitigate security threats

With the right human oversight, emerging technologies like artificial intelligence can help keep business and customer data secure

Next slide, please: A brief history of the corporate presentation

From million-dollar slide shows to Steve Jobs’s introduction of the iPhone, a bit of show business never hurt plain old business.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.