Compromised microbiome found to predict blood infections in pediatric cancer patients

Long, flexible tubes called central venous catheters, or central lines, are used to give cancer patients the blood, fluids, medicines, and nutrients that they need. However, in the U.S. these central lines are linked with at least 400,000 blood infections annually.

A lot of these blood infections are deadly and they cost the healthcare system about $18 billion dollars each year.

Researchers from University of Colorado Cancer Center (CU) have looked into the possibility that several of these infections may not be due to central lines. The study, which was published in the journal PLOS ONE, examined other possible causes of blood infections linked to cancer such as changes in the microbiome.

The microbiome refers to “the community of microorganisms that live within the human body.”

The researchers posit that an imbalanced microbiome and a leaky gut are the cause of some bloodstream infections instead of an unhygienic central line.

Bryan Nycz, a third-year medical student at the CU School of Medicine, explained that he and the other researchers wanted to determine if the composition of a cancer patient’s microbiome could be used to anticipate who is at risk of developing bloodstream and Clostridium difficile (C. diff) infections. Nycz is also the paper’s first author.

The study examined samples gathered during an outbreak of C. difficile in 2012. To check for C. difficile colonization, stool samples were taken from all pediatric oncology patients at Children’s Hospital Colorado from October to December of the same year.

Several of the patients developed C. difficile infections and other developed blood infections. Using the preserved samples, specifically the microorganisms identified in the stool, the current study was able to investigate the connection between the composition of patients’ microbiomes and the two types of infection. The researchers had access to the samples and records of 42 patients.

The study determined that the composition of the microbiome varied based on the patient’s type of cancer and it’s location and type of treatment, such as antibiotics and chemotherapy. These factors influenced the diversity and makeup of patients’ microbiomes. Data revealed that patients who received bone marrow transplants and subsequent therapies had microbiomes that were greatly affected.

The composition of a patient’s microbiome doesn’t always determine which patients would develop C. difficile infections. But Nycz highlighted that the relatively small sample size could be one reason why it’s not as easy to discover a notable link between microbiome composition and C. difficile. An ongoing study might shed light on the findings of the research.

Nycz believes that further study is required before pediatric oncologists can predict or manipulate patients’ microbiomes.

What is leaky gut?

  • The gut is “naturally porous,” which is how the body absorbs nutrients via the intestinal lining. However, when the lining is damaged, larger molecules (a.k.a macromolecules) may escape the digestive tract and enter the bloodstream, or the condition called “leaky gut.”
  • Leaky gut causes inflammation, bloating, stool changes, and fatigue.
  • It is hard to diagnose the condition, but some symptoms include food sensitivity, gluten intolerance, joint pain, issues with the digestive system, acne, and high blood sugar.

You can learn more about cancer and how to prevent it at

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