Fecal transplants could help boost the number of cancer patients who respond to immunotherapy, LiveScience reports.
It notes only about 40 percent of advanced melanoma patients respond to immunotherapy, leading scientists to search for factors that influence responsiveness, such as the gut microbiome. Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and elsewhere conducted a clinical trial in which 15 individuals with metastatic melanoma who did not respond to an immune checkpoint inhibitor underwent fecal microbiota transplants before again being treated with immunotherapy.
As they report in Science, the researchers found that, after the transplant, six of the 15 patients then responded to treatment. The gut microbiomes of the six newly responsive patients had higher levels of bacteria that were associated with the activation of T cells and fewer bacteria linked to the suppression of the immune system, the Guardian adds.
"We expect that future studies will identify which groups of bacteria in the gut are capable of converting patients who do not respond to immunotherapy drugs into patients who do respond," co-first author Amiran Dzutsev from the US National Cancer Institute says in a statement.
"If researchers can identify which microorganisms are critical for the response to immunotherapy, then it may be possible to deliver these organisms directly to patients who need them, without requiring a fecal transplant," he adds.