People can now have a procedure that you probably can't believe anyone would need or want: a fecal transplant.
It may sound disgusting and bizarre, but it's not exactly new. Fecal transplants were first tried in the 1950s and are now back thanks to "superbugs". These are the bacteria that have become resistant to antibiotics partly due to the widespread use of antibiotics on animal farms.
In particular, some Clostridium difficile - or C diff - are now super-resistant bacteria. They cause intestinal diseases such as bloody diarrhea and kill almost 15,000 Americans every year.
Just under a fifth of us actually carry C diff as part of our gut flora, but it's kept in check by the other bacteria there. This normal flora, called microbiome, keeps us disease-free. But when that's disrupted by an underlying illness or after an antibiotic therapy to treat another infection, then C diff can flourish.
This is where fecal therapy comes in. The rationale is that if normal flora keeps C diff in check, then it has to be restored. The challenge has been finding reliable, disease-free fecal matter to transplant.
So, a group of enterprising graduate students created OpenBiome, in part because they watched a friend struggle with C diff. OpenBiome collects, tests and distributes stool samples for transplant much like a blood bank distributes blood.
Samples are obtained, tested and certified by FDA procedures, which costs around $3,000. They they're frozen to -80 degrees Celsius and shipped to physicians and hospitals for transplantation.
The burgeoning success of fecal transplantation is an example of how much of our health relies on a healthy microbiome. We should be closely monitoring our small friends.
For more information…
Gut Microbes for Life
Nice article outlining the characteristics of bacterial population of the human gut by Ed Young
The Stomach Bacteria That Could Prolong Your Life
"The best predictor of our lifelong health may well be the bacteria that live within us."
Quick, inexpensive and a 90 percent cure rate
Interesting article from the Mayo Clinic about fecal transplants to treat C diff
Swapping Germs: Should Fecal Transplants Become Routine for Debilitating Diarrhea?
"A potentially beneficial but unusual treatment for serious intestinal ailments may fall victim to regulatory difficulties."