Close up of researcher working with samples in a lab

Research projects

Mighty microbes: can bacteria in our lungs make cancer treatment more effective?

Dr Chiara Ambrogio
Project period
Jan 2024 - Dec 2026
Research Institute
University of Turin
Cancer types
Lung cancer
Award amount

Project aim

Dr Ambrogio and her team are investigating the role that microbiota – the collection of bacteria and other microbes that live inside our bodies – play in the development of lung cancers. They hope that their research could pave the way for new therapies using beneficial microbes to improve lung cancer treatments.

Hope for the future

Recent research has shown that the microbes living in our bodies can impact the way cancer is diagnosed, the way it develops, and how effective treatments are.

Most of this research has focused on the microbes in our gut, but Dr Ambrogio and her team want to apply these new discoveries to some less studied microbes – the ones that live in our lungs. Understanding how specific bacteria help or hinder tumour growth could be the starting point for better lung cancer treatments. Lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer death in the UK - it is estimated that over 50,000 people will die of lung cancer every year in the UK by 2050 - so research into new, innovative cures is vital.


Chiara Ambrogio and her team standing in their institute in Turin

Meet the scientists

The team are united by their love for good cuisine. Being an international group, they frequently arrange lunches where each member brings traditional dishes from their country. Also, their enthusiasm for classic films ended up into "cineforums," often followed by enjoyable dinners.

The science

Your body is a living, thriving ecosystem of bacteria and other microbes. While some microbes can cause disease, others are essential for bodily functions - for example digestion. These different microbes co-exist in a balance, and are collectively known as the microbiome. This is a completely normal, healthy part of the body.

Research into the gut microbiome has shown that the presence of certain helpful bacteria and other microbes can be used to diagnose cancer, predict cancer outcomes and improve the effectiveness of treatments like immunotherapies. This is a new area of cancer research and is transforming the ways scientists and clinicians are approaching cancer treatment.

Until recently the lungs were considered a “sterile” organ – that is, it was assumed there were no microbes living in the lungs, as they could not be detected. With improved methods of identifying bacteria, we now know that the lungs have a rich microbiome with a variety of types of healthy bacteria. However, the relationship between this microbiome and lung cancer is still very poorly understood.

With support from our Curestarters, Dr Ambrogio and her team can now study how we could use certain microbes in our lungs as “biomarkers” – indicators of tumours that could be used to detect cancer earlier. They will also investigate beneficial bacteria that could make lung cancer treatments more effective. For example, using probiotics (that introduce healthy bacteria into the body) or antibiotics (that kill harmful bacteria) could improve the success of existing treatments. This research could lead to a new approach to lung cancer therapies, harnessing the microbes in our lungs to help fight tumours.

Head shot of Chiara Ambrogio in her lab wearing a labcoat Dr Chiara Ambrogio
With your precious contribution, we are delving into the complicated biology of microbiota impact on lung cancer, looking for breakthroughs that will change the patients’ lives. Every donation promotes our enthusiasm and dedication to science. Thank you for supporting us in the fight against lung cancer. Together, we are working for a healthier future.

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