One side effect of my dive into microbiome research is the startling realization that experts in medicine and health know much, much less than we think they do. Heck, even within microbiome research, it’s amazing how researchers seem to not keep up very well — I see so many studies premised on not very solid, and often outdated, assumptions. And often premises that completely conflict with one another. Ie, “Because Firmicutes are associated with obesity, we wanted to…” and “Because Bacteroidetes are the result of an unhealthy Western diet, we wanted to see if…” It’s as if they don’t talk to each other. But that’s a discussion for another time.
I bring all of this up because I came across this report: Cancer scientists seek to stop radiotherapy’s side-effects on ‘friendly’ gut bacteria.
When I first read that headline, I expected a report about how doctors are becoming more sensitive to the effect their treatments and procedures have on the microbiome. Which is a very positive thing to see. But if you actually read the article, that doesn’t seem to be the case at all:
“One possibility is that different populations of bacteria in a person’s guts are making them more or less susceptible to radiotherapy.”
“The aim is to build up a profile of gut bacteria which will allow us to predict who will suffer side-effects that might limit the effectiveness of the radiotherapy. Then we can think of finding ways to treat people in advance of radiotherapy in future.”
Mmhmm. Please, go oooooooon……
One technique would involve administering medicines that would alter the makeup of a patient’s population of gut bacteria. Alternatively their entire population of gut bacteria could be removed and replaced with another from a donor, a technique called a faecal transplant.
Call me crazy, but this sounds to me like the opposite of what the title suggested. What these doctors seem interested in is modifying gut bacteria — perhaps drastically — in order to make radiotherapy more effective.
And that’s scary. The idea that these people will figure out the “right bacteria” any time soon, and then try to proactively alter or demolish someone’s gut based on that, is very scary. Why? Because this is the same person who, in this article, said:
“Men and women have a startling amount of bacteria in their stomachs…”
Yeah. I bet he can also see Russia from your colon. The stomach is notable for being a place in your GI that is extremely hostile to bacteria. Too acidic. It has a startlingly low amount of bacteria.
It’s truly astounding to me just how strong of a proclivity these people have toward not only intervention, but extreme intervention. You can sense how titillating it is for them. A real chance to “geek out.” Even if they do identify an enterotype that is more amenable to radiotherapy, how do they know that enterotype won’t produce other side effects in an individual? How do they know that enterotype will be compatible with that person’s genotype?
If anything, emerging microbiome research teaches the opposite lesson: We don’t know as much as we think we do, so tread lightly. But some people just aren’t built to understand that lesson, I guess. No, they’re built to get really “science-y” and bring us things from the future. Hammer, meet nail:
“The crucial point is that we are now becoming aware of how important the bacteria in our guts are to our general health – and that should help direct us to a range of new drugs and treatments for all sorts of different conditions in future,” said Dearnaley.
Thank you, doctor from the future! See? Where we’re going, we won’t need common sense and a basic understanding of human anatomy…