A new clinical trial at the Lawson Health Research Institute is testing whether fecal transplants can improve results in cancer patients being treated with immunotherapy.

Currently, immunotherapy drugs significantly improve survival in 40 to 50 per cent of melanoma patients.

Researchers hope that adding healthy bacteria to a patient's gut is both safe, and could help improve patients' response to the drugs.

“The gut microbiome helps establish immunity from an early age. It makes sense that a healthy gut could improve response to immunotherapy,” Dr. Jeremy Burton, a Lawson scientist, explained in a statement.

In a fecal transplant, stool is taken from a healthy donor, prepared in a lab and then transplanted into a patient with the goal of improving the health of the patient's gut.

For the first phase of the clinical trials, 20 melanoma patients are being recruited from the London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC) to undergo a fecal transplant and then anti-PD1 immunotherapy.

Dr. John Lenehan, associate scientist at Lawson and oncologist at LHSC, said in a release that while melanoma is the least common skin cancer, it is the most deadly and it's on the rise.

“Anti-PD1 immunotherapy drugs can be extremely effective but we want to help more patients respond. That’s our goal.”

Patients in the trial will take oral capsules for the fecal transplant and then be assessed over time for changes in their cancer, microbiome, immune system and overall health.

There is also potential for the same treatment to be used for those living with other forms of cancer as well, and to test its use for those with other conditions.

The team is in need of young, healthy stool donors willing to go through a screening process. Anyone interested can contact the Fecal Transplant Program at 519-646-6100 ext. 61726.