News Release

Cancer treatment: a berry from Brazil helps out

Peer-Reviewed Publication

University of Montreal Hospital Research Centre (CRCHUM)

Dr. Bertrand Routy, a CRCHUM researcher and a professor at Université de Montréal, and Meriem Messaoudene, a postdoctoral student in Dr. Routy’s lab and first author of the study

image: Dr. Bertrand Routy, a CRCHUM researcher and a professor at Université de Montréal, and Meriem Messaoudene, a postdoctoral student in Dr. Routy’s lab and first author of the study view more 

Credit: CHUM

Castalagin, a polyphenol from the Amazonian fruit camu-camu, increases the efficacy of immunotherapy in mice by modifying their microbiome, Canadian researchers find.

Canadian researchers have discovered that the Brazilian camu-camu berry, already recognized for its protective effects against obesity and diabetes, can also help to treat cancers.

In a study published in Cancer Discovery, the team of researcher Bertrand Routy, a professor in Université de Montréal’s Department of Medicine, shows one compound from the fruit can have a positive role to play in immunotherapy. 

“With this research, conducted with our colleagues from Université Laval and McGill University, we have proved that castalagin, a polyphenol acting as a prebiotic, modifies the gut microbiome and improves immunotherapy response, even for cancers resistant to this type of treatment,” said Dr. Routy. 

“Our results pave the way for clinical trials that will use castalagin as a complement to medications called immune checkpoint inhibitors in cancer patients,” added Meriem Messaoudene, a postdoctoral student in Dr. Routy’s lab and first author of the study.

In recent years, immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICI) have given patients renewed hope that their immune systems can overcome cancer resistance by revolutionizing therapies targeting melanoma and lung cancer. This type of immunotherapy activates the immune system to kill cancer cells. 

A hunt for new approaches

Despite these improvements, only a minority of patients have long-lasting responses to immunotherapy akin to a cure, so researchers like Routy have been on the hunt for new therapeutic approaches. Their ultimate goal is to turn an unhealthy microbiome into a healthy one in order to strengthen the immune system. 

Among the strategies Routy has come up with is one that employs prebiotics, chemical compounds that can improve the composition of the gut microbiome. 

“To evaluate the beneficial effects of castalagin, we orally administered the prebiotic to mice that had received a fecal transplant from patients resistant to ICI,” he said. “We found that castalagin binds to a beneficial intestinal bacteria, Ruminococcus bromii, and promotes an anti-cancer response.”

The discovery will soon be tested in patients thanks to the launch of the first clinical trial combining the camu-camu berry and ICIs. Recruitment of 45 patients with lung cancer or melanoma will begin this month at the CHUM and the Jewish General Hospital. 

Up to $1 million in funding over three years is being provided by the Weston Family Foundation as part of its Brain Health 2021: Lifestyle Approaches and Microbiome Contributions program. 



About the study 

 “A natural polyphenol exerts antitumor activity and circumvents anti-PD-1 resistance through effects on the gut microbiota,” by Meriem Messaoudene et al., was published Jan. 14, 2022, in Cancer Discovery. Funding was provided by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research; the Fonds de recherche du Québec — Santé; the Oncobiome consortium (European Union); the Montreal Cancer Institute, the Fondation du CHUM and the Préfontaine family; the Quebec Cell, Tissue and Gene Therapy Network (ThéCell); and the Fondation J. A. De Sève.  


About the CRCHUM  
The University of Montreal Hospital Research Centre (CRCHUM) is one of North America’s leading hospital research centres. It strives to improve adult health through a research continuum covering such disciplines as the fundamental sciences, clinical research and public health. Over 2,300 people work at the CRCHUM, including more than 500 researchers and more than 520 graduate students.  @CRCHUM  

About Université de Montréal 

Deeply rooted in Montreal and dedicated to its international mission, Université de Montréal is one of the top universities in the French-speaking world. Founded in 1878, Université de Montréal today has 13 faculties and schools, and together with its two affiliated schools, HEC Montréal and Polytechnique Montréal, constitutes the largest centre of higher education and research in Québec and one of the major centres in North America. It brings together 2,400 professors and researchers and has more than 67,000 students. 


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