Frequently Asked Questions – FAQ’s
What is the microbiome?
In our bodies we have more than 100 trillion microbes, including bacteria and viruses, outnumbering our normal cells by up to 10 to one. In fact, if you look at the genes in our bodies, we are only about 1% human, as most of our DNA is either bacteria or viral.
For 3 billion years, microbes were our planet’s sole owners, creating our biosphere, maintaining global cycles involving carbon, nitrogen, sulfur, phosphorus, and other nutrients. They not only made all the soil, they set the conditions for the evolution of multicellular life, meaning plants and animals, including us. They used all that time to evolve and diversify their genetic pool to adapt to the most extreme conditions and build strong resilience.
The notion that most bacteria, or germs, are intrinsically bad is widespread. But that view is wildly incorrect. In fact, our planet is run by and for these invisible microbes. New methods of studying the microbial world reveal that most of the bacteria we encounter on a daily basis, and those that reside in and on our bodies, are essential for keeping us alive.
We need to shift our thinking away from human-centric to planet-centric. Microbes were present when humans started emerging. We had to adapt and learn to thrive in a microbial world, and, in fact, microbes ended up being an essential part of human health.
Bacteria and viruses aid in digestion, and they help us exist as humans producing or delivering essential elements to our health, including some of our most precious vitamins. What we’re now learning is that they actually have a tremendous impact on many other aspects of physiologies, such as our skin health, oral health, and mental health. They even assist in actively fighting many diseases. All of this is thanks in part to our exposure to them in our earliest years when they assisted in training our immune system to recognize what needs to be protected versus what is foreign and should be fought with our inflammatory responses.
Until recently, tissue and blood were believed to be microbe free unless infected. There is now evidence that they too have a microbiome, leading to essential innovations in diagnosis and treatment of disease.
What is the cancer microbiome?
Until recently, tissue and blood were believed to be microbe free, unless infected (ex. sepsis). But, what has been discovered is that tissue also has a microbiome, with very specific signatures that can sometimes even be shed into the blood. This is even true for cancer tissues. For example, lung cancer tissue will have a different microbial signature than adjacent healthy tissue and a very different microbial signature than breast cancer tissue. Our discovery of this highly differentiated microbial code in the tissue and in blood enabled us to develop the Oncobiota™ diagnostic platform to accurately diagnose tissue cancers early, using only a simple blood draw.
How do you find cancer in a blood sample?
Combining our team’s extensive knowledge of the microbiome with the use of artificial intelligence and bioinformatics, we created the Oncobiota™ platform that only requires patient blood obtained via liquid biopsy (though it can also be obtained through tissue). We use this platform technology to query a multitude of microbes to derive a more sensitive and specific identification of the presence of cancer in a given patient, rather than targeting mutations of the cancer itself.
The advantage of this method is that we do not rely on the cancer reaching a certain size to be able to detect a signal. Our method has many levels of amplification of the signal; 1) These microbial biomarkers are abundant in nature, much more than the number of tumor mutations detected in other methods, 2) Their absence can be as informative as their presence, and 3) The microbes involved do not necessarily come from the tumor(s). Some may be recruited by the host to go “defend” itself against the cancer and are picked up by Oncobiota™ in the blood on their way to the tumor.
What benefit does finding the cancer microbiome provide compared to other methods or using additional indicators?
Is this method approved for cancer diagnosis?
Following robust method validation, we will be offering Oncobiota™ to all clinicians as a CLIA/CAP certified service by late 2021/early 2022. Clinicians will be able to send us blood samples to be processed in our facility and we will generate a report for them indicating the likelihood of cancer presence in their patients.