Research has shown that certain gut bacteria appear to boost people’s response to cancer treatment. Some microbes can be adversary and activate inflammatory responses that disrupt the body’s protection mechanisms or make cells resistant to drugs, promoting cancer survival. Other gut bacteria, however, can help defend against tumors. Studies have shown that some cancer treatments depend on the gut microbiome activating our immune system. Thus, researchers are trying to manipulate the composition of beneficial microbes in the intestines of cancer patients that don’t respond to immunotherapies to see if it can help treatment. University of Pittsburgh immunologists are partnering with the pharmaceutical company Merck to conduct clinical trials in which fecal bacteria will be collected from patients who respond to treatment and transferred into the intestines of non-responding patients. Scientists from the MD Anderson Cancer Center are also partnering with the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy and Seres Therapeutics to conduct clinical trials for fecal microbiome transplant. It’s still unclear exactly how microbes might interact with immunotherapy drugs. With regards to side effects, fecal microbiome transplants have proved safe and effective in many people without cancer but unexpected effects can always occur.
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