Thursday, June 14, 2012

Fecal transplantation

Ulcerative colitis (UC) is a debilitating condition. It is now possible that a simple transfer of someone else’s faeces into the bowel of the sufferer will solve the problem. As icky and as unlikely that seems, there are researchers working on just that. And it is not a new idea. Fecal transplantation was successfully used to treat enterocolitis back in the late 1950s.

There are 1200 different bacterial species and a hundred trillion bacteria living in the large bowel. There are 10 times more bacteria in your back end than you have cells in your body. It is thought that a particular bacterium Clostridium difficile is the one responsible for many cases of intractable UC.

In the past, the consumption of probiotics (healthy bacteria) has only provided minor success as consumption by mouth can’t deliver anywhere near enough bacteria to the large bowel. Many patients with UC usually endure multiple medications, infusions and often a colostomy. They all agree that a fecal transplant is far preferable as a treatment, even if tough cases require up to five infusions. Using fecal bacteria from a relative seems to have more success.

As Dr Tom Borody, Centre for Digestive Diseases, Sydney, said at a recent conference I attended “This is a new form of therapootics.” He gave his first fecal transplant back in 1988 and that patient remains symptom-free today. Borody has started a Poo Donor Bank, seeing a great future in using healthy fecal bacteria as a means of curing colitis caused by Clostridium difficile.

Reference: Borody TJ & Campbell J. Expert Reviews of Gastroenterology & Hepatology 2011; 5 (6): 653-655

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