Faecal transplants could provide breakthrough for pancreatic cancer treatment

Central Adelaide researchers are at the forefront of using poo transplants, known as faecal microbiota transplantation (FMT), to improve the gut health of patients with pancreatic cancer. 

Professor Guy Maddern has won a $1.5 million Medical Research Future Fund grant to investigate how FMT can be used to improve symptoms and pain levels for pancreatic cancer patients undergoing demanding treatment. 

Improving health to improve access to a cure

Surgery is the only cure for pancreatic cancer, but it relies on tumours being small enough to safely cut away from the delicate structures of the pancreas. 

Chemotherapy can be in important first step to shrink pancreatic tumours enough to make surgery an option, but patients need to be healthy to handle the treatments according to Prof Maddern, Director of Research Basil Hetzel Institute for Translational Health Research, The Queen Elizabeth Hospital. 

“Often patients present to us quite late and malnourished, so they may not be healthy enough to handle the best possible intervention,” said Professor Maddern.

“So the idea is that if we can improve their general health and nutrition, which starts with their gut health, they have a better shot at getting the most effective treatments.”

Prof Maddern’s research program will span three years and include patients at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, The Queen Elizabeth Hospital (TQEH), and patients at the Royal North Shore Hospital in New South Wales. The study also represents a partnership with BiomeBank, Australia’s first stool bank and microbial therapeutics company, based in Adelaide. 

About faecal microbiota transplantation (FMT)

Approximately 100 trillion micro-organisms exist in the human gastrointestinal tract, functioning as a virtual organ, known as the gut microbiota. 

With FMT, healthy bacteria are transferred via faecal material from a healthy individual to another person, which can then multiply and provide a boost to the recipient’s own microbiome. The FMT is usually performed with a nasal tube, by swallowing a capsule, or most commonly via direct delivery by colonoscopy or enema. 

“There is emerging evidence as to the importance of the organisms in the gut, the so-called gut microbiota, both in health and disease. FMT is a therapy aimed at changing the gut microbiota toward a healthy and diverse profile and there is growing evidence that it may be effective therapy not only gastrointestinal conditions, but diseases beyond the gut,” said A/Prof Robert Bryant, gastroenterologist and co-investigator at TQEH. 

While FMT is a well-established treatment and effective at treating gastrointestinal infection and inflammatory bowel disease, it has not yet been trailed in pancreatic cancer patients. 

Professor Maddern believes the low-risk treatment to help improve gut health before treatment could make a major difference for those with pancreatic cancer. 

“It will encourage all involved in treating such patients to look more widely than just the cancer as the only life limiting factor,” said Prof Maddern. 

Professor Guy Maddern (left) and Associate Professor Robert Bryant (right).

Pictured: Professor Guy Maddern (left) and Associate Professor Robert Bryant (right).