Gut microbes linked to immunotherapy response in melanoma patients

November 7, 2016, Cancer Research UK
Melanoma in skin biopsy with H&E stain — this case may represent superficial spreading melanoma. Credit: Wikipedia/CC BY-SA 3.0

Patients with malignant melanoma - whose disease has spread - are more likely to respond to immunotherapy treatment if they had greater diversity in their gut bacteria, according to new research presented at the National Cancer Research Institute's (NCRI) Cancer Conference in Liverpool.

Scientists at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Centre studied over 200 mouth and over 100 samples from people who had advanced melanoma.

They discovered that people whose cancer responded to immunotherapy treatment had more diversity in the types of bacteria found in their gut. They also found significant differences in the type of bacteria found in the gut of people whose cancer responded versus those who didn't.

There was no difference in the type of mouth bacteria between patients.

Early studies in mice have shown that changing the type of bacteria that live in the gut can improve the response to immunotherapy, but this is one of the first studies to look at the link in patients.

Immunotherapy, which harness the body's immune system to target cancer cells, are an exciting avenue of cancer treatment. However, not all patients respond to these treatments, and researchers are trying to understand why.

This research suggests that adapting people's , such as giving antibiotics, probiotics, or a faecal transplant before immunotherapy, could increase the benefits already achieved with new immunotherapy drugs now being used to treat several different types of cancer. However, this needs to be tested clinical trials.

Melanoma is the fifth most common cancer in the UK with about 14,600 people being diagnosed each year. And each year about 2,300 die from the disease.

Dr Jennifer Wargo, lead researcher at the University of Texas, said: "Our research shows a really interesting link that may mean the immune system is aided by gut bacteria when responding to these drugs. Not all patients respond to immunotherapy drugs and it's hard to know who will benefit from the treatment prior to it being given.

"The gut microbiome can be changed through a number of different strategies, so there is real potential here to modify the gut microbiome to boost an immunotherapy response."

Dr Pippa Corrie, Chair of the NCRI's Skin Cancer Clinical Studies Group, said: "There is growing evidence that gut bacteria play a vital role in warding off disease, absorbing nutrients from the food we eat, and maintaining normal function of our immune systems.

"Gut microbes have been shown to influence the role of conventional chemotherapy, so it's probably not surprising that they impact on response to new immunotherapies being used in the clinic. Manipulating the may be a new strategy to enhance activity of immunotherapy drugs, as well as to manage problematic toxicity in the future."

Explore further: Investigational immunotherapy safe, tolerable, shows activity against melanoma

More information: Plenary session: Understanding responses to cancer therapy: The tissue is the issue but the scoop is in the poop – Jennifer Wargo, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, USA, presented at the National Cancer Research Institute's (NCRI) Cancer Conference in Liverpool.

Related Stories

Investigational immunotherapy safe, tolerable, shows activity against melanoma

October 20, 2016
The investigational immunotherapeutic IMC-20D7S was safe, well tolerated, and showed signs of modest clinical activity for patients with advanced melanoma, according to results from a first-in-human phase I clinical trial ...

Chemotherapy may boost immunotherapy power in ovarian cancer

June 15, 2016
Women with advanced ovarian cancer may benefit more from immunotherapy drug treatments if they are given straight after chemotherapy, according to a new study published in Clinical Cancer Research today.

Researchers find immunotherapy treatments better for advanced skin cancer

November 4, 2016
McMaster University researchers have found that for patients diagnosed in the late stages of one of the most common and deadly forms of skin cancer, treatment with a combination of immunotherapy options improves survival ...

Researchers take step toward eliminating cancer recurrence

September 1, 2016
Scientists from the United States have made an important step toward eliminating cancer recurrence by combining immunotherapy with chemotherapy. Specifically, they found that chemotherapy alone leads to two types of dormant ...

New immunotherapy treatment could lead to better, cheaper results for pancreatic cancer

September 9, 2016
A new immunotherapy treatment has shown dramatic results in treating advanced pancreatic cancer, a deadly cancer that has seen little progress in treatment over the last 20 years.

Combining radiation with immunotherapy showing promise against melanoma

May 19, 2016
Combining radiation treatments with a new generation of immunotherapies is showing promise as a one-two-punch against melanoma, Loyola Medicine researchers report in the Journal of Radiation Oncology.

Recommended for you

Machine-learning algorithm used to identify specific types of brain tumors

March 15, 2018
An international team of researchers has used methylation fingerprinting data as input to a machine-learning algorithm to identify different types of brain tumors. In their paper published in the journal Nature, the team ...

Higher doses of radiation don't improve survival in prostate cancer

March 15, 2018
A new study shows that higher doses of radiation do not improve survival for many patients with prostate cancer, compared with the standard radiation treatment. The analysis, which included 104 radiation therapy oncology ...

Joint supplement speeds melanoma cell growth

March 15, 2018
Chondroitin sulfate, a dietary supplement taken to strengthen joints, can speed the growth of a type of melanoma, according to experiments conducted in cell culture and mouse models.

Improved capture of cancer cells in blood could help track disease

March 15, 2018
Tumor cells circulating throughout the body in blood vessels have long been feared as harbingers of metastasizing cancer - even though most free-floating cancer cells will not go on to establish a new tumor.

Area surrounding a tumor impacts how breast cancer cells grow

March 14, 2018
Cancer is typically thought of as a tumor that needs to be removed or an area that needs to be treated with radiation or chemotherapy. As a physicist and cancer researcher, Joe Gray, Ph.D., thinks differently.

Obesity may promote resistance to antiangiogenic therapy for breast cancer

March 14, 2018
Obesity—which is already known to reduce survival in several types of cancer—may explain the ineffectiveness of angiogenesis inhibitors in the treatment of breast cancer. A research team led by Massachusetts General Hospital ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.