A pilot study using metagenomic sequencing of the sputum microbiome suggests potential bacterial biomarkers for lung cancer.

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PubMed ID: 28542458

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Cameron SJS, Lewis KE, Huws SA, Hegarty MJ, Lewis PD, Pachebat JA, Mur LAJ

PLoS One. 2017. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0177062

COMMENT: Lung cancer (LC) is the most prevalent cancer worldwide, and responsible for over 1.3 million deaths each year. Currently, LC has a low five year survival rates relative to other cancers, and thus, novel methods to screen for and diagnose malignancies are necessary to improve patient outcomes.

In this work the autors report on a pilot-sized study to evaluate the potential of the sputum microbiome as a source of non-invasive bacterial biomarkers for lung cancer status and stage. Spontaneous sputum samples were collected from ten patients referred with possible LC, of which four were eventually diagnosed with LC (LC+), and six had no LC after one year (LC-). Of the seven bacterial species found in all samples, Streptococcus viridans was significantly higher in LC+ samples. Seven further bacterial species were found only in LC-, and 16 were found only in samples from LC+. Additional taxonomic differences were identified in regards to significant fold changes between LC+ and LC-cases, with five species having significantly higher abundances in LC+, with Granulicatella adiacens showing the highest level of abundance change. Functional differences, evident through significant fold changes, included polyamine metabolism and iron siderophore receptors. G. adiacens abundance was correlated with six other bacterial species, namely Enterococcus sp. 130, Streptococcus intermedius, Escherichia coli, Streptococcus viridans, Acinetobacter junii, and Streptococcus sp. 6, in LC+ samples only, which could also be related to LC stage.

According to the author's opinion:

This novel pilot-level study has expanded upon our knowledge of the microbiome in patients with lung cancer, using clinically relevant control samples, particularly in regards to the functional capacity of the microbiome, and its taxonomic composition at the species level. Additionally, we have demonstrated the strength of using metagenomics to identify potential biomarkers for disease state and progression, namely Granulicatella adiacens and its correlations in abundance with a range of bacterial species, which could have clinical use. However, due to the small sample number in this pilot study, more work is needed to confirm these suggestive relationships, and whether they are observable in earlier stage lung cancers, and whether they are able to differentiate between different LC histology.

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Javier Velasco