Researchers now have evidence that healthy people metabolize some drugs in different ways depending on their microbial make-up.
To see whether a person’s microbiome affected how they metabolized drugs, [Computational biologist Leah Guthrie at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City] collected fecal samples from 20 healthy people [and] treated the samples with the chemotherapy drug irinotecan…The team found that 4 of the samples contained high levels of the toxic form of irinotecan, but found no significant differences between the bacterial species present in any of the samples.
When the researchers analysed the proteins produced in the fecal samples, they found that those from people with high bacterial metabolisms contained strains that made more β-glucuronidases[, which can modify the chemical structure of irinotecan and other drugs].
Researchers have identified dozens of examples of gut bacteria that seem to modify therapeutic drugs, including some that treat Parkinson’s disease and anxiety, says Emily Balskus, a biochemist at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She says that bacterial interference could also help to explain why animal models don’t always predict drug toxicity in humans, because animals contain different microbes.
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