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Subspecialties Microbiology and immunology, Oncology, Cytology

A Meaningful Microbiome

The gut microbiome is increasingly well known for its diagnostic potential and its effect on overall health. But just because it’s the most famous doesn’t mean it’s the only one; a new study has revealed the potential of the cervical microbiome as a biomarker of cervical cancer risk.

A transatlantic group of researchers from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln and Tanzania’s Ocean Road Cancer Institute conducted a study to investigate the relationship between human papillomavirus (HPV), human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and cervical dysplasia (1). To that end, they collected cytobrush samples from the cervical lesions of 144 Tanzanian women and performed 16S rRNA gene deep sequencing to examine the microbiota present. The goal? To understand how the bacterial community differs between patients with different HIV status and cytology grade.

The researchers discovered that HIV significantly increases the overall richness of the cervical microbiome. HIV-positive individuals showed higher rates of Bacillus and Mycoplasma species, but lower rates of Lactobacillus species in particular.

Additionally, different grades of precancerous lesion were associated with different microbiota after separating HIV-positive and HIV-negative groups. Bacteria of the Mycoplasmatales order increased in abundance as lesion severity increased, from 0.2 percent of the total microbiome in the absence of lesions to 3.9 percent in high-grade squamous intraepithelial lesions. The higher-grade lesions also showed increased overall microbial diversity. “There are certain families of bacteria that appear to be associated with the higher grades of precancerous lesions,” said lead author Peter Angeletti in a recent press release (2).

It’s possible that, one day, analysis of the cervical microbiome could help diagnosticians better spot patients at risk of cervical cancer – the second-most common cancer in women living in underdeveloped areas, and the fourth-most common in women worldwide. The study’s authors are optimistic that, one day, such analysis might even allow for the development of preventative treatments that modulate the cervical microbiome for better health.

Caption: Lead author Peter Angeletti and first author Cameron Klein. Credit: Craig Chandler | University Communication.
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  1. C Klein et al., “Relationship between the cervical microbiome, HIV status, and precancerous lesions”, MBio, 10, e02785018 (2019). PMID: 30782659.
  2. L Reed, “Link between cervical microbiome and cancer discovered” (2019). Available at: bit.ly/2SO5yBW. Accessed June 7, 2019.
About the Author
Michael Schubert

While obtaining degrees in biology from the University of Alberta and biochemistry from Penn State College of Medicine, I worked as a freelance science and medical writer. I was able to hone my skills in research, presentation and scientific writing by assembling grants and journal articles, speaking at international conferences, and consulting on topics ranging from medical education to comic book science. As much as I’ve enjoyed designing new bacteria and plausible superheroes, though, I’m more pleased than ever to be at Texere, using my writing and editing skills to create great content for a professional audience.

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