Charis Eng, MD, PhD, chair of Cleveland Clinic’s Genomic Medicine Institute, and co-founder of Family Care Path,  discusses the research that is being done through the five-year $1.6 million Gray Foundation Grant in the October Cleveland Clinic Catalyst eNews Issue. Jill Stefancin has shared that this grant is allowing Dr. Eng and her collaborators to further their study of the connection between the microbiome of the breast and breast cancer.

“We’ve been studying the microbiome since 2010,” [Dr. Eng] begins, defining the microbiome as the living community, including bacteria, fungi and viruses, that’s not human yet lives in and on us. “It’s been a long and arduous route because so many bioinformatics – ‘big data’ – techniques were not there and we had to create them. What the Gray Foundation grant has funded us to do is to take our pilot data and ask if the microbiome differs between normal breasts and breasts that have cancer, and what we can do about that. We’ve already shown that normal breast tissue actually has more bacteria than those with cancer.”

Described as a pioneer in her field for decades, Dr. Eng plans to continue her breast cancer research looking at the role of the immune system to discover new ways to predict susceptibility to breast cancer for women with the disease who have no known risk factors.  

“If you’re talking about bacteria and fungi, the body’s immune system has to do something,” [Dr. Eng] continues. “How does the immune system ‘talk’ to the bugs and how do the bugs ‘talk’ to the immune system? Is it a profitable relationship, where the immune system mounts a response, or is it a destructive one, where certain microbiota can interrupt the immune system and do the opposite and cause cancer to grow? We don’t yet know.”

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