Changing developments in life science
Each species is directly affected by diet, medication, living conditions – and even life events, such as if one was born by Caesarian section. Searching for certain bacterial or fungal species that may influence the side effects of a particular cancer treatment within this vast and complex ecosystem is no easy task, and Wardill spends much of her time researching the millions of microbiological entities at UMCG, one of the biggest healthcare institutes in the Netherlands.
Wardill arrived here from Australia for a two year research program centered on the microbiome, and is currently focusing on how the various species that live within the human body affect how we respond to different cancer therapies: “There always has been a large focus on the outcomes of cancer therapy but very little emphasis placed on the complications that might occur as a result of treatment.”
Current oncological treatments, including chemotherapy, radiotherapy, immunotherapy, and stem cell transplantation, while effective, are also associated with a broad range of complications. Patients can often experience side effects like hair loss, infections, diarrhea, bleeding and even cognitive changes during their treatment. “My aim is to prevent that burden for patients,” says Wardill. “By looking at all aspects of an individual, from genetics, to their microbiome and immune function, as well as the myriad of cofactors like age, sex, and smoking status, we can come up with a very personalized approach to both achieve greatest efficacy on anti-cancer outcomes and minimize or alleviate toxicities associated with the therapy.”
It is an ambitious goal but an important one. Especially when focusing on pediatric cancer patients. "The survival rates of cancer therapies in children are fortunately very high today. But it makes it even more vital that we avoid chronic or traumatic side-effects." Daan van Wessel, a physician at the of the UMCG Pediatric Surgery Department, shares this view. He works closely with Dr. Wardill saying that “we as doctors are focused more and more on the holistic approach towards the patients, not only treating them but also making sure that the possible side effects are limited to a certain extent in any way possible."