If you’re wondering exactly what all of this is — or why this is — let us break it down for you. Essentially, not every cancer responds to immunotherapy drugs. Statistics from Cancer Council NSW say that for those with advanced melanoma, only half benefit from it.
So for those who don’t respond, adjusting the composition of microorganism in the intestines (gut microbiome) through the use of faecal transplants may actually help them respond to the drugs. For this study, the faecal transplant came from a patient who previously had responded to an immune checkpoint inhibitor.
As for what an immune checkpoint inhibitor is? It’s a drug that prevents checkpoint proteins from binding with their partner proteins — preventing the “off” signal from being sent, and it allows the T cells to kill cancer cells.
And yes, samples were analysed to ensure no infection agents would be transmitted and were treated with saline and other solutions.
What does this mean? Well, that the introduction of certain faecal microorganisms into a patients colon, may help the patient respond to drugs — ones that enhance the immune system’s ability to recognise, and kill, tumour cells (a very good thing).
Six out of the 15 patients who took part in the research, responded with either tumour reduction, or long-term disease stabilisation. One of the six has exhibited an ongoing partial response (a decrease in the size of the tumour, or the extent of cancer in the body), after more than two years after the treatment. Four are still receiving treatment, and have shown no disease progression for over a year.
Study co-leader Giorgio Trinchieri, M.D., chief of the Laboratory of Integrative Cancer Immunology in NCI’s Center for Cancer Research said, “The data provide proof of concept that the gut microbiome can be a therapeutic target in cancer.”