Poop Saves Lives

It may not be nice, but people suffering from chronic diarrhea nowadays are sometimes offered a feces transplant as treatment.

photo credit: Dain Sandoval via photopin cc

The gut is inhabited by trillions of bacteria, more than there are cells in the human body, in fact. These help us to digest our food, and a healthy gut has a good balance of beneficial bacteria. Sometimes, particularly after a stay in hospital pathogenic bacteria known as C. difficile invade the gut. The resultant infection can be difficult to cure and often kills weak and elderly patients. Antibiotics can successfully treat some cases, but have the effect of killing off all the beneficial bacteria too, so that any surviving C. difficile can recolonise with ease.

An unpalatable but effective solution has gained popularity in recent years. This is to provide a transplant of healthy fecal material from a donor. After processing, the resulting material is placed in the gut of the patient, often resulting in a complete cure.

This controversial treatment has seen little research, but now Trevor Lawley of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Hinxton, U.K. and his colleagues have isolated a combination of six different bacteria that had the same curative effect in mice.

Perhaps one day soon doctors will be prescribing an artificially produced cure for C. difficile, based on the last-resort fecal transplants of today.


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