From a simple blood draw, microbial DNA may reveal who has cancer and which type, even at early stages

When Gregory Poore was a freshman in college, his otherwise healthy grandmother was shocked to learn that she had late-stage pancreatic cancer. The condition was diagnosed in late December. She died in January.

“She had virtually no warning signs or symptoms,” Poore said. “No one could say why her cancer wasn’t detected earlier or why it was resistant to the treatment they tried.”

As Poore came to learn through his college studies, cancer has traditionally been considered a disease of the human genome — mutations in our genes allow cells to avoid death, proliferate and form tumors.

But when Poore saw a 2017 study in Science that showed how microbes invaded a majority of pancreatic cancers and were able to break down the main chemotherapy drug given to these patients, he was intrigued by the idea that bacteria and viruses might play a bigger role in cancer than anyone had previously considered.

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