Conference Coverage

Systemic sclerosis gastrointestinal symptoms helped by gut microbiota transplant



More patients with limited cutaneous systemic sclerosis (SSc) experienced improvement in gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms when given a gut microbiota transplant, compared with control subjects in a 16-week randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot study presented at the European Congress of Rheumatology.

The effects were most pronounced on lower GI symptoms, including bloating, diarrhea, and fecal incontinence, with improvement reported by three of five of the patients given the gut microbiota transplant, compared with two of the five patients who received placebo.

“We were surprised by the effect the patients reported, as all had longstanding SSc with GI symptoms,” Anna-Maria Hoffmann-Vold, MD, PhD, of Oslo University Hospital, said in an interview ahead of the congress. “We were especially surprised at the strong effect FMT had on fecal incontinence.”“Patients with systemic sclerosis are very prone to having gastrointestinal involvement – up to 90% of patients have GI symptoms, and it’s associated with very high morbidity and mortality,” she observed during her presentation at the Congress. Despite that, there currently are no disease-modifying treatments that specifically addresses GI involvement in SSc.

It’s been known for a while that patients with SSc have a different intestinal microbiota composition, or dysbiosis, compared with healthy controls, and the possibility of permanent modification of the microbiome through fecal microbiota transplant (FMT) from healthy to ill individuals has become a subject of increased attention in the scientific literature in recent years,. Dr. Hoffmann-Vold said.

In particular, FMT has shown promising results in the treatment of Clostridium difficile infections. While the current study did not focus on mechanistic pathways by which FMT might be exerting its effects, such studies are definitely warranted, she said. “One could speculate that there is a mechanistic link between dysmotility and dysbiosis in SSc, and that the manipulation of gut microbiota with FMT primarily affects motility patterns, which in turn leads to improvement of GI symptoms.”

Together with colleagues at the Oslo University Hospital, Dr. Hoffmann-Vold randomly assigned 10 patients – all women – with limited cutaneous SSc either to treatment with a commercially-available gut microbiota preparation known as anaerobic cultivated human intestinal microbiota (ACHIM) or to placebo. Both ACHIM and placebo were given via gastroduodenoscopy. Their aim was to determine the safety of the approach, as well as to obtain preliminary data on its therapeutic potential.

The UCLA GIT 2.0 score questionnaire was used to assess GI symptoms, with patients defined as responders if they met the questionnaire’s definition of a minimally clinically important difference.

Primary endpoints were safety and clinical efficacy on GI symptoms assessed at weeks 4 and 16, and safety was assessed by observation, interviews, and a standardized safety form.

Results showed improvement in GI symptoms (total UCLA GIT score) in three of the five patients who received the gut microbiota transplant versus two of the five placebo-treated patients at 16 weeks. Two patients in the active treatment versus one in the placebo group had unchanged symptoms, and one patient in the placebo group had worsening symptoms.

Adverse events associated with treatment were “transient and mild”. However, one procedure-related serious adverse event occurred in a placebo-treated patient, which was a duodenal perforation.

Concluding her presentation, Dr. Hoffman-Vold said: “FMT of commercially-available ACHIM in patients with SSc appeared safe, had beneficial effects on lower GI symptoms, altered gut microbiota composition – richness and diversity – and appeared to affect the mucosal immune system.”

The research team has just received national funding for a larger randomized clinical trial that will involve 70 SSc patients and should start towards the end of the year.

The study was sponsored by Helse Sør-øst and NKS. Dr. Hoffmann-Vold has received research funding, consulting fees, or other remuneration from Boehringer Ingelheim, GlaxoSmithKline, and Actelion. A coauthor is the owner of the company that provided the gut microbiota.

SOURCE: Hoffmann-Vold AM et al., Ann Rheum Dis. 2019 Jun. doi: 10.1136/annrheumdis-2019-eular.4684 .

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