May 10, 2018

VICC Scientific Retreat shines light on microbiome

Two Vanderbilt students were honored for their stellar scientific research during the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center (VICC) Annual Scientific Retreat held May 3 at the Vanderbilt University Student Life Center.

On hand at last week’s Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center Annual Scientific Retreat were, from left, Ann Richmond, PhD, Giorgio Trinchieri, MD, Christian Jobin, PhD, Gary Wu, MD, Cynthia Sears, MD, and Jennifer Pietenpol, PhD. (photo by Steve Green)

Two Vanderbilt students were honored for their stellar scientific research during the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center (VICC) Annual Scientific Retreat held May 3 at the Vanderbilt University Student Life Center.

Lang Wu, PhD

Lang Wu, PhD, was named Postdoctoral Student of the Year for his research that used transcriptome and high-density genotyping data to develop prediction models to identify breast and prostate cancer susceptibility genes. Wu works in the laboratory of Wei Zheng, MD, PhD, MPH, Anne Potter Wilson Professor of Medicine and director of the Vanderbilt Epidemiology Center.

The VICC Graduate Student of the Year award was granted to Chloe Snider who presented work on the regulation of the anchoring of the actinomyosin contractile ring of the plasma membrane in fission yeast during mitosis. Snider works in the laboratory of Kathleen Gould, PhD, Louise B. McGavock Professor of Cell and Developmental Biology and associate dean for Biomedical Sciences.

Chloe Snider

This year’s retreat focused on the association between cancer development, the immune system and the microbiome, which includes all of the microorganisms and the genetic material of these microorganisms in the human body and the surrounding environment.

Four internationally recognized cancer investigators were invited to share highlights from their microbiome research during the event.

Giorgio Trinchieri, MD, National Institutes of Health (NIH) Distinguished Investigator and director of the Cancer and Inflammation Program at the National Cancer Institute, said the organisms comprising the microbiome of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract are different from those of other organs. While the gut microbiota appear to have a localized effect, they may also contribute to systemic issues that promote cancer development in distant parts of the body. Trinchieri said bacterial species already have been linked to the formation of polyps in the colon and while specific bacterial species may promote tumor formation, there is still disagreement among different labs across the world as to which bacteria are responsible for enhancing tumor progression.

He suggested microbiota may be useful for treating illnesses, perhaps by giving patients a pill filled with beneficial bacteria or introducing bacteria through other processes including fecal transplants.

Gary Wu, MD, co-director of the PennCHOP Microbiome Program at the University of Pennsylvania, discussed the effects of diet and antibiotic use on the microbiome. Wu said research has shown that eating certain foods can change microbiota in the gut, leading to changes in the metabolic pathways and altering the composition of the body’s metabolism related to nitrogen balance as well as its impact on metabolic pathways in the intestinal epithelium, principally fatty acid oxidation.

These findings suggest that it may be possible to engineer the diet to appropriately alter the microbiome to reduce the impact of illnesses like Crohn’s disease.

Cynthia Sears, MD, professor of Medicine, Oncology and Molecular Microbiology and Immunology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, focused on how the interaction of specific bacteria, biofilms, the colonic microbiota, and chronic inflammation can lead to development of colon cancer. She discussed the role of certain bacteria that invade the protective lining of the colon and form biofilms that may contribute to tumor formation and impair response to immune therapy.

Christian Jobin, PhD, program leader of Cancer Microbiota and Host Response at the University of Florida, discussed the role of microbiota in either protecting or exacerbating the development of precancerous conditions like colitis and colorectal cancer. Jobin said research reveals that the type of bacteria present in the GI tract is important, and the body’s microbiota may tip the balance between healthy systems versus disease states.

This year’s retreat was organized by Ann Richmond, PhD, Ingram Professor of Cancer Research and associate director for Research Education.