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Fungal association with tumors may predict worse outcomes

The presence of some fungal species in tumors predicts — and may even help drive — worse cancer outcomes, according to a study from Weill Cornell Medicine and Duke University researchers.

The study, which appears Sept. 29 in Cell, provides a scientific framework to develop tests that delineate specific fungal species in tumors that are relevant for prediction of cancer progression and therapy. The results also point to the possibility of using antifungal treatments to augment conventional cancer treatments in some cases.

“These findings open up a lot of exciting research directions, from the development of diagnostics and treatments to studies of the detailed biological mechanisms of fungal relationships to cancers,” said senior author Dr. Iliyan Iliev, associate professor of immunology in medicine in the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology and a member of the Jill Roberts Institute for Research in Inflammatory Bowel Disease at Weill Cornell Medicine.

The first author of the study was Anders Dohlman, a doctoral student in biomedical engineering at Duke University.

The idea that viruses and bacteria can trigger or accelerate cancer development is now well established. However, little is known about the cancer-related roles of fungi — which, like bacteria and viruses, colonize the gut, lungs, skin and other barrier tissues, interact with the immune system, and sometimes cause disease.

In the new study, researchers catalogued fungal species and their associations with different cancers by analyzing The Cancer Genome Atlas, the largest well-annotated genomic database of human tumors.

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