Stopping infections caused by cancer therapies

Armin RashiniIn patients with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) undergoing intense chemotherapy, as well as those undergoing stem cell transplantation, bloodstream infection is a common cause of sickness and death.

Researchers believe that bacteria from the gut can move into the bloodstream to cause infections and are especially interested in how it gets altered during chemotherapy.

To get answers, Masonic Scholar Armin Rashidi, M.D., Ph.D., and his colleagues studied bacterial DNA in stool samples from patients who were undergoing chemotherapy and from patients who were undergoing both stem cell transplantation and chemotherapy. Most of the patients had AML.

In both groups, “we found that the diversity of microbiota markedly decreased over time,” Rashidi explains. “The initially diverse microbial communities became dominated by a few bacteria, including pathogens. Antibiotic use played a major role in these changes. In some cases, bloodstream infection was preceded by dominance of the same organism in the stool sample.”

With continued research, Rashidi hopes to develop microbiota-directed therapies that could help decrease infectious complications in cancer patients. His team’s work could also help doctors make wiser choices about prescribing antibiotics to these patients.

“This was my first formal study in microbiota at a time when I did not have enough research funding. Masonic support was a jump-start for me to build the first blocks of my research career and develop several subsequent studies that I now consider my research niche.”

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