Stanford Cancer Institute

SCI Women’s Cancer Center Innovation Awardee

October 2023

Ami Bhatt, MD, PhD, associate professor of medicine (hematology) and of genetics, and her co-investigator, Allison Kurian, MD, MSc, associate professor of medicine (oncology) and of health research and policy, were awarded a $50,000 SCI Women's Cancer Center Innovation Award. Their proposal is titled “The microbiome as a modulator of immunotherapy treatment response in triple negative breast cancer.” Bhatt’s lab studies the dynamics of the human microbiome in patients with non-communicable diseases such as cancer. She aims to develop methods to modify the microbiome to ameliorate disease.

Trillions of microbes live within us. We now know that these microbes, which together make up our microbiome, play important roles in a variety of physiological processes, from digestion to immune function, and that they can also influence the response to medical treatments. Bhatt, Kurian, and their collaborators recently found that antibiotic treatment can impact survival in patients with triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC), a type of breast cancer that disproportionately affects Black women. Through the support of the SCI Women's Cancer Center Innovation Award, Bhatt will investigate the reason for this antibiotic effect and whether it reflects changes in the microbiome. In principle, this could happen in one of two ways: antibiotics may affect specific types of microbes, thus changing the composition of the microbiome, or it may reduce the overall number of microbes in the gut, thus changing the overall microbial concentration. While previous studies explored effects on composition, whether the overall concentration matters is still unknown. Bhatt and Kurian will address this gap in knowledge by determining whether overall gut microbe concentrations in patients prior to treatment predict response to therapy. The findings will further elucidate how the microbiome affects our health and may ultimately impact TNBC treatment practices.