Fecal Transplants

It's icky, it's disgusting. But you know, this is just an editorial comment by me. People got to get over this ick business. I mean, surgery is icky - Steve Mirsky

Fecal Transplants

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So fecal transplants—what are they?

Fecal transplants are based on the understanding that all of us carry around in our gut, in our intestines, a complex community of bacteria that are actually larger in aggregate than the rest of us. There are actually more bacterial cells in our intestines than there are cells that belong to us in the rest of our bodies. And most of the time that incredibly complex community works in a really interesting harmony to do all sorts of things for us: to extract nutrients from our food, to tune up our immune systems, to keep our reactions to things in our environment, from revving out of control the way that allergies do, for instance.

But every once in a while, that community gets completely out of whack and that happens, for instance, when we take antibiotics. Now I am really interested in antibiotics and antibiotic resistance and that's, kind of, how I got led into this topic. The way this usually happens is that people become, they get an infection, they take antibiotics. Because antibiotics, in a broad spectrum way, often kill lots of different bacteria, they disrupt the bacteria in our intestines, this microbiome as it's come to be called.

And then another bacterium, a pathogenic bacteria that's really vicious called Clostridium difficile, or most people just call C. diff, takes over. C. diff is not only really, really persistent, it's really stubborn. If you get an attack of C. diff, even if you take another set of antibiotics to cure it, the chances are about one in five that you'll have a recurrence. Once you've had one recurrence, you're very likely to have others. So, people get into this to descending spiral where that bacterial community within their bodies gets more and more disrupted. They can't digest food properly. They're permanently afflicted by diarrhea. Their lives are just destroyed. They pretty much can't leave the house.

So, someone had the idea to take a step back from this endless spiral of treatment, and say, "What would happen if instead of just treating this problem, we tried to replace that unhealthy community of bacteria with a healthy community of bacteria?" And that's what fecal transplants are, really. I mean in their most basic, they take feces, stool, from someone with a healthy gut, and they infuse it in to the gut of someone whose microbiome has been disrupted. That healthy community of bacteria takes over and grows into the sort of ecological niche that's been disrupted and restores intestinal health. The cure rate with fecal transplants is somewhere north of 90 percent. It's astonishing. It's something…

Source: Steve Mirsky, Excerpt from Fecal Transplants: The Straight Poop, Scientific American, January 31, 2012.

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Last Updated : Thursday, June 13, 2019