A Dose of Feces, Anyone?

NDSU Microbiology
by NDSU Microbiology

Guest Blogger: Leiah Smolley, VMS Undergrad

It can feel like death: those severe gut pains that seem to last an eternity; the powerful aches and diarrhea that come on surprisingly fast after a stringent regimen of antibiotics prescribed to treat an underlying medical condition. These symptoms result from a disturbance in the kinds of bacteria that normally reside in the gastrointestinal tract. These helpful micro-flora maintain adequate pH levels, aid in the digestive process, and provide a line of defense against harmful microbes.

However, some antibiotics designed to target the “bad,” disease-causing microbes, can – with prolonged use – also kill off “good” stomach bacteria. When this happens, “bad” bacteria like Clostridium difficile, can become the dominant gut microbes. This microbe causes many uncomfortable things: diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever, loss of appetite, and nausea. C. difficile infects more than half a million individuals each year while killing about 14,000 of these individuals.

It’s a conundrum: treat disease only to cause a secondary disease. So what if there was something that could relieve all of our gut aches?

Scientists have discovered a possible solution to those painful cramps and aches within our digestive tracts. But it’s kind of a gross one.

“Poop pill could help infection victims,” declared a USA Today website article. Poop. Pill. It’s a type of Fecal Microbiota Transplant (FMT) designed to eliminate C. difficile. According to The Fecal Transplant Foundation, it is a procedure in which fecal matter is collected from a donor, mixed with saline, strained and placed in a patient via colonoscopy, endoscopy, sigmoidoscopy, or enema. The purpose is to replace the good bacteria that have been killed or suppressed by the use of antibiotics.

Since the 1990s, researchers have been collecting fecal samples from healthy individuals and placing those samples within gelatin capsules. The number of capsules a patient consumes is dependent on their body weight. In addition, it has been proven to be more beneficial to collect fecal samples from healthy family members so there is a similarity between the patient and donor bacteria.

FMTs have had promising results with many digestive diseases, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Crohn’s Disease, and Ulcerative Colitis. As of today, there have been more than 700 successful fecal transplants in the United States. Unfortunately, it is still considered an experimental procedure. Consequently, some individuals perform homemade fecal transplants since the US Food and Drug Administration has put strict regulations on fecal transplants in healthcare facilities.

To me, fecal transplants seem extremely gross and uncomfortable. No matter how high the success rate is or becomes, I cannot bear the thought of consuming someone else’s feces. Just the thought of it makes me cringe! However, it’s hard not to be awed. It is amazing what ideas and concepts scientists develop in order to eradicate or prevent diseases. Fecal pills may seem like a rather disturbing idea, but could it be overlooked when your next gut ache kicks in? We should never underestimate the power of poop!

Image Source: CDC

This entry is part of the MICR 354 (Scientific Writing) student-blog series.