Debunked: Study Finds No Connection Between Common Fungus and Pancreatic Cancer

Blue Purple Cancer Cells Illustration

Duke Health researchers, working to validate a four-year-old theory that a common fungus might trigger pancreatic cancer, have found no such link. Despite the initial promise, their comprehensive analysis did not support an association between fungi and the development of pancreatic cancer.

A study conducted four years ago suggested a potential link between a common type of fungus and the development of pancreatic cancer, providing a promising new view of the deadly disease.

However, upon attempting to confirm this discovery, researchers from Duke Health found no such connection. The Duke team’s findings were recently published in the journal Nature. Their comprehensive analysis of data from the initial study did not establish any correlation between the microbiome of the pancreas and the onset of pancreatic cancer.

“We were intrigued by the original finding, as were many research teams,” said senior author Peter Allen, M.D., professor in the Department of Surgery and chief of the Division of Surgical Oncology at Duke University School of Medicine.

“There is a growing body of literature connecting the human microbiome to disease, and this was particularly compelling for pancreatic cancer,” Allen said. “But our findings did not support an association between fungi and the development of pancreatic cancer in humans.”

Allen and colleagues worked to recreate the 2019 findings published in Nature by a different research team. The original study raised hopes that there might be a possible method of preventing pancreatic cancer with the use of antifungals or some other approach to protect from infection.

Focusing on the research team’s original raw sequencing data, the Duke researchers were unable to reproduce the findings. Additional studies, using pancreatic cancer tissue in Duke repositories, also failed to produce the original results.

“We believe our findings highlight the challenges of using low biomass samples for microbiome sequencing studies,” Allen said. “The inclusion of appropriate negative controls and efforts to identify and remove sequencing contaminants is critical to the interpretation of microbiome data.”

Reference: “Revisiting the intrinsic mycobiome in pancreatic cancer” by Ashley A. Fletcher, Matthew S. Kelly, Austin M. Eckhoff and Peter J. Allen, 2 August 2023, Nature.
DOI: 10.1038/s41586-023-06292-1

In addition to Allen, study authors include Ashley A. Fletcher, Matthew S. Kelly, and Austin M. Eckhoff.

The work was funded by the Duke University School of Medicine through a grant from the Duke Microbiome Center. Kelly and Eckhoff receive funding from the National Institutes of Health (K23-AI135090, T32-CA093245).

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