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Previously Funded Research

2020 Lung Cancer Research Foundation Annual Grant Program

Michael Zimmermann, PhD

European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL)

Research Project:

Identifying risk factors for lung cancer predisposition through systematic evaluation of environmental carcinogens’ activation by the respiratory tract microbiota


The human body harbors trillions of microbes (known as the human microbiome), which collectively encode many more genes than the human genome. Furthermore, the variation between individuals’ microbial communities drastically exceeds human genome variability. These microbial communities colonizing different body surfaces play an essential role in human health and response to environmental factors. Numerous studies have linked changes in the microbiota composition to different diseases, such as the metabolic syndrome and cancer. Based on these observations and the fact that lung cancer prevalence was linked to altered respiratory tract microbiome compositions, we hypothesize that microbial strains with certain metabolic traits can be identified as predisposition risk factors for lung cancer.

Prominent risk factors for cancer development are environmental carcinogens (e.g., in cigarette smoke), and many of these chemicals require metabolic activation in the human body. While such activation is classically associated with human enzymes, recent studies have demonstrated that human-associated microbes also have the potential to chemically transform carcinogens into their active form. Therefore, we propose to test lung-associated bacterial strains for their capacity to chemically modify environmental carcinogens and to promote lung cancer onset and development. If successful, this project may identify microbial risk factors for lung cancer predisposition.

* This project was awarded the James B. Dougherty, MD Award for Scientific Merit acknowledging the investigator whose proposal was selected for outstanding overall merit by LCRF’s Scientific Advisory Board.

Watch Dr. Zimmerman accept his award during LCRF’s 15th Anniversary Celebration.