2024 Recipient — Laura Chambers, DO

Photo: headshot of Dr. Laura Chambers wearing white lab coat

Laura Chambers, DO

The Impact of Gut Microbiome and Probiotics on Chemotherapy Response in Ovarian Cancer Patients

Project Summary

Ovarian cancer is the top cause of gynecologic cancer death in the United States. Recent research shows that human health is influenced by the microbiome, an extensive collection of microorganisms, including bacteria that inhabit our bodies. The microbiome has been linked with the development and treatment of gynecologic cancers. Probiotic supplements contain bacteria with positive effects on the human body. In prior research, probiotics have decreased chemotherapy side effects, improved immune function, and had anti-cancer activities. Still, the effectiveness of probiotics in patients with ovarian cancer is unknown. In this proposal, we will study giving probiotics to patients with ovarian cancer treated with chemotherapy and assess quality of life and tolerance. Secondly, we will evaluate whether probiotic therapy leads to meaningful changes to the gut microbiome and compare how this relates to a patient’s response to cancer treatment. Lastly, we will use innovative pre-clinical animal models using patients’ microbiomes and assess the specific changes in a tumor and blood to understand how probiotics could treat cancer and improve patient outcomes. This study will deepen our understanding of the relationship between ovarian cancer, the microbiome, and probiotics. It offers hope to patients and providers that the microbiome could be targeted through personalized probiotic interventions to improve ovarian cancer patients’ quality of life and survival.


Laura Chambers, DO, MS, is an Associate Professor on the Tenure Track in the Division of Gynecologic Oncology. She received a BA in Molecular and Cellular Biology from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and subsequently obtained a Master's degree at Midwestern University in Downers Grove, IL, where her research thesis focused on the interactions between the gut microbiome and diet-induced obesity and development of metabolic syndrome. She then obtained her medical degree from the Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine in Downers Grove, IL. Dr. Howitt then completed an Obstetrics and Gynecology residency and the Gynecologic Oncology Fellowship at The Cleveland Clinic. In addition to my clinical work, my research is focused on the role of the gut and female reproductive tract microbiota in gynecologic cancer development, response to treatment, and as a potential therapeutic target. The current focus of this OCRA-funded proposal is to understand how microbiome-directed interventions may improve quality of life, treatment toxicity, and oncologic outcomes in patients with ovarian cancer.