Professor Wendy Garrett

Harnessing bugs in the gut to fight bowel cancer

Professor Wendy Garrett leads a research team at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, USA and studies how the billions of microbes living in our bodies (known as the microbiome) interact with our immune system. Her research focuses on bowel cancer and how specific bacteria influence its growth. She and Professor Matthew Meyerson have been awarded a Cancer Grand Challenges grant to further this pioneering work.

The microbes that live in our gut, are essential for our biology and help us remain healthy. Understanding how they behave in diseases like bowel cancer could help us boost the effectiveness of treatments.

Professor Garrett’s team studies mice, human tissue and cells to understand how the microbiome influences bowel cancer development and treatment. She and her colleagues have previously discovered that a specific bacterium that normally lives in the mouth grows inside bowel cancer tumours and helps them develop by hiding them from the immune system.

As part of their Grand Challenge project, Professors Garrett and Meyerson will look for patterns in the microbiome that are associated with cancer development. This knowledge could help predict which patients are most at risk of developing cancer, by looking at which types of microbes grow in their guts. The researchers will also investigate whether altering the microbiome in the gut could help stall and treat cancer in patients, and maybe someday even prevent it.

Bowel (colorectal) cancer
Cancer biology

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, USA