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Fecal microbe transplants help cancer patients respond to immunotherapy and shrink tumors

The gut is filled with microbes that can affect human health. ChrisChrisW/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Fecal microbe transplants help cancer patients respond to immunotherapy and shrink tumors

The gut is filled with microbes that can affect human health. ChrisChrisW/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Fecal microbe transplants help cancer patients respond to immunotherapy and shrink tumors

The gut is filled with microbes that can affect human health. ChrisChrisW/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Fecal microbe transplants help cancer patients respond to immunotherapy and shrink tumors

The gut is filled with microbes that can affect human health. ChrisChrisW/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Following this fecal microbe transplant treatment, tumors of six out of 15 patients in the study had tumors that shrank or remained the same.

The effect of a drug, or impact of a treatment like chemotherapy, doesn’t just depend on your body. The success of a particular medicine also depends on the trillions of bacteria in your gut.

The 100 trillion bacteria that live within the human digestive tract – known as the human gut microbiome – help us extract nutrients from food, boost the immune response and modulate the effects of drugs. Recent research, including my own, has implicated the gut microbiome in seemingly unconnected states, ranging from the response to cancer treatments to obesity and a host of neurological diseases, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, depression, schizophrenia and autism.

What underlies these apparently discrete observations is the unifying idea that the gut microbiota send signals beyond the gut and that these signals have broad effects on a large swathe of target tissues.

I am a medical oncologist whose research involves developing novel therapies for melanoma. To evaluate whether altering the microbiome could benefit cancer patients, my colleagues and I evaluated the transfer of fecal matter from melanoma patients who responded well to immunotherapy to those patients for whom immunotherapy failed. Just published in the journal Science, our results reveal that this treatment helped shrink the tumors of advanced melanoma patients when other therapies hadn’t worked.

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