University of Florida Health Cancer Center researchers have developed a groundbreaking resource for basic science and clinical researchers to advance cancer-related microbiome research: the first cancer-specific microbiome biorepository in the country.
“The UF Health Cancer Center microbiome biorepository is designed to create a unified resource for basic science and clinical researchers involved in microbiome cancer studies,” said Ryan M. Thomas, M.D., FACS, director of the new microbiome biorepository and assistant professor in the UF College of Medicine’s department of surgery. “It serves as a centralized hub to submit, store and disseminate samples, acting as a one-stop shop for those faculty and staff doing these very complicated studies.”
The biorepository, which will be housed in UF’s Cancer and Genetics Research Complex, will be accessible by any UF researcher who is pursuing cancer-related microbiome research.
The microbiome is the collection of trillions of microorganisms that live on and within every individual, including bacteria, viruses and fungi, Thomas said. There is growing evidence that microorganisms can contribute to inflammation, immune system modulation and cancer development. However, the ability to collect and have access to human samples has been a limitation of cancer studies and microbiome research.
The microbiome biorepository will support standardized specimen collections from cancer patients, including their associated clinical data, so that information from one study can potentially be applied to generate ideas for future studies and clinical trials, Thomas said. The overall goal is to develop new ways to diagnose and treat cancers by leveraging information learned about the microbiome.
“The microbiome biorepository will bridge the gap between basic science and clinical researchers to really provide that translational cancer research we’re so often looking for,” Thomas said. “The benefit of this is that it will combine the work of both basic science and clinical researchers and break down any silos that are present to foster greater collaboration within the UF Health Cancer Center and the University of Florida.”
The idea came to fruition when the UF Health Cancer Center’s microbiome working group, which falls under the Cancer Therapeutics and Host Response (CTHR) research program, identified the lack of a centralized microbiome biorepository as a limitation in their cancer research efforts. The group presented the idea at the UF Health Cancer Center strategic retreat to leadership members, who recognized this as a novel and important resource for the mission of the institution.
“This is really going to take microbiome research at UF and the UF Health Cancer Center to the next level,” said Thomas, a member of the CTHR and microbiome working group. “The field of microbiome research is just exploding, and we have national and international experts here at UF that will be collaborating even more with this resource.”
Cancer Center investigators are encouraged to incorporate microbiome studies into their trials and can seek help from Thomas and the microbiome advisory committee.
This groundbreaking UF Health Cancer Center program was born out of close interaction with Dr. Thomas, Thomas George, M.D., FACP, Christian Jobin, Ph.D., and Rolf Renne, Ph.D.
“It’s a service that is going to create a huge microbiome-cancer footprint in Florida and we hope nationally,” Thomas said.