29 July 2021
A South Australian poo transplant trial and a “cure” for aggressive ovarian cancer are two medical breakthroughs to hit the news this week.
The faecal transplant trial aims to reduce discomfort felt by people with Parkinson's disease.
In a collaboration between The Queen Elizabeth Hospital, the Royal Adelaide Hospital and biotechnology company BiomeBank, faecal transplants are the latest treatment option being trialled in people living with Parkinson's to help manage their debilitating symptoms by replenishing their healthy gut bacteria, the ABC reports.
With constipation affecting 90 per cent of people with Parkinson's, research has indicated the microbiome within the gut may influence the response to existing therapies for Parkinson's.
Robert Bryant, a gastroenterologist at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital and co-founder of Translational Medicine at BiomeBank, said the study of faecal microbiota transplantation (FMT) is an important step in microbial drug development.
"Constipation is a common problem for many people with Parkinson's and has a wider impact on the person's health and wellbeing," Dr Bryant told the ABC.
"The aim of this trial is to meet an unmet medical need, exploring whether our microbial therapy is safe and tolerable in people with Parkinson's disease.
"The study will also provide some preliminary information on whether FMT might improve motor and non-motor symptoms of Parkinson's including constipation."
Parkinson's SA executive director Olivia Nassaris said the study, which was a first in South Australia, will change lives.
"As anyone that has experienced constipation in their life will know that it's uncomfortable and a lot of people with Parkinson's miss out on doing daily things in their life because of this symptom," she told the ABC.
"We're hoping that through faecal transplant into people with Parkinson's suffering from constipation that we can relieve this symptom for them and it will be an absolute game changer."
The trial has been financially backed by Adelaide businessman Kevin Weeks, who lives with Parkinson's disease.
"Gut health has been linked to so many conditions and it is exciting that a South Australian company might improve our understanding of this connection," Mr Weeks said.
"I'm funding this trial because I want to back research that produces immediate improvements for people living with Parkinson's."
A start date for the trial has not yet been determined, although researchers are keen to get underway.
A minimum of 12 people with Parkinson's are needed for the trial to go ahead, where they will undergo a six-month course of FMT at BiomeBank.
Meanwhile, women with the most deadly type of ovarian cancer should now be eligible for game-changing drugs researchers believe could cure them, following a landmark finding by Melbourne scientists, The Advertiser reports.
The work led by Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research has uncovered that tumours in a group of ovarian cancer patients contain gene-silencing changes that make them responsive to powerful targeted drugs called PARP inhibitors.
Lead researcher Professor Clare Scott said the discovery identified an extra 12 per cent of women with high-grade serous ovarian carcinoma, who were likely to benefit from these drugs and should be included in clinical trials.
The findings were published on Thursday in the journal Cancer Research. But subsidised access is the current hurdle, The Advertiser reports.
Australian women with BRCA mutations – about 20 per cent of ovarian cancers – can access PARP inhibitors early in treatment.
Despite many other countries funding early access for women without BRCA mutations, Australia only funds it once a cancer has returned.
Prof Scott said given the success of these drugs in BRCA mutations, she now wanted this same life-extending, or possibly life-saving, potential given to this new subset of women.
“We’ve never been in a position to say the word cure in the press. I would never do that before. But now I will,” she said. “I am confident we are curing some women with a BRCA-1 or 2 mutation who receive a PARP inhibitor in the first line following their chemotherapy.
“Now we’re seeing if we can cure some women who don’t have a BRCA mutation.”