Melanoma is a type of skin cancer which many of us are likely familiar with. To avoid this cancer, we are encouraged to wear sunscreen year-round and avoid using tanning beds and sun lamps. However, melanoma may still develop when melanocytes, cells that produce melanin, begin excessively growing. There are five different types of standard treatments for patients with melanoma: surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, and targeted therapy.
Researchers at the NIH, in collaboration with UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, have recently found that a number of patients with advanced melanoma who do not respond to a certain treatment, known as immune checkpoint inhibit therapy, can start to respond through a fecal microbiota transplant. What is a fecal microbiota transplant, and how can it aid in the treatment of melanoma?
What is a Fecal Microbiota Transplant (FMT)?
A fecal microbiota transplant (FMT) is the transfer of healthy stool from one person to another. FMTs alter the gut microbiome, the microorganisms present in your gastrointestinal tract. The microbiota can influence human physiology in several ways. The way it changes is vital, with one of the most recent projects investigating the treatment of advanced melanoma.
The applications of FMT are currently being implemented, from treating refractory Clostridium difficile infection to treating inflammatory bowel disease. A study revealed that patients with advanced melanoma who did not initially respond to immunotherapy drugs responded to them after receiving an FMT. Through this FMT, the individuals responded to drugs that strengthened their ability to target tumour cells. This study demonstrates that altering the composition of the gut microbiome in patients can improve their response to immunotherapy.
As research continues, it is likely that we will be able to identify microorganisms that play a critical role in immunotherapy. With this finding, it would be possible to introduce these microorganisms directly to patients without the need for a fecal transplant, potentially having the ability to treat each and every patient with melanoma with the use of immunotherapy.