Sheba researchers successfully reprogrammed the immune system of terminally ill patients to fight cancer by utilizing a gut microbiome transplant.
A groundbreaking study conducted at Sheba Medical Center, led by senior gastrointestinal oncologist Dr. Ben Boursi and senior oncologist Prof. Gal Markel, found that by replacing a patient’s gut microbiome, it may be possible to reprogram their immune system to fight cancer.
“This is the first time cancerous tumors have been successfully treated by replacing the gut microbiome,” Dr. Boursi said, and explained: “In the first stage we eradicated the patient’s existing microbiome, after which we transplanted gut microbiota from cancer survivors who had melanoma, but responded well to immunotherapy, and were cancer-free for at least one year.”
The participants in the study were terminally ill patients with metastatic melanoma that have exhausted all other treatment options. The participants had not responded to immunotherapy in the past, and many even experienced severe side effects during their treatment. The new microbiome was transplanted via colonoscopy, and two weeks later, when there was evidence of donor microbiota engraftment, they resumed immunotherapy and received 3 months of odorless, flavorless pills containing the same microbiota bacteria.
Out of the 10 study participants, two patients exhibited tumors that had shrunk considerably, and in a third patient not only did the tumor disappear entirely, but the patient was cured. Additionally, unlike with the previous immunotherapy sessions, there were no significant side effects.
“Currently, immunotherapy works for only 40 to 50 percent of patients. We anticipate that with the help of this revolutionary treatment, we will see many patients transforming from ‘non-responders’ to ‘responders,’” said Boursi, and added that the team at Sheba is currently employing it on melanoma patients, as well as patients with lung cancer.
The study was published in the peer-reviewed journal Science.