Imagine being so sick that the only way you’ll get well again is to have someone else’s poo transplanted into your colon. That’s right, they take a healthy person’s poo and give it to you.
Doesn’t sound so appealing?
That’s okay, science has found a solution – swallow the poo instead!
There’s a type of infection commonly known as C. diff, which is short for the type of bug that causes it, Clostridium difficile. This bug is resistant to antibiotics, so often when a person is treated for other infections, their microbiome is depleted and they are be left susceptible to C. Diff. The infection then causes symptoms like diarrhea, inflammation, and can even be life-threatening. This is when the fecal microbial transplant comes in, replacing their unhealthy bacteria with a healthy microbiome that can take over.
While this treatment has about a 90 per cent success rate, it’s invasive and resource intensive, generally requiring a colonoscopy.
So researchers wanted to figure out if ingesting the healthy sample would work just as well. So they took more than a hundred C. Diff patients and treated half with the standard transplant, and half with the fecal capsules (which is an arguably nice way to say poo pills) you can see being made in this video.
They found that there was no difference in outcomes – both methods had a 96.2 per cent success rate. Plus, while just under half of the patients said that the standard transplant wasn’t at all unpleasant, two thirds of said the same for the capsules.
This finding will be important in the future as superbugs grow stronger and more resistant to antibiotics. The infection-killing pills we pop in the future might be more likely to be filled with poo than with traditional medicine.
Video and images thanks to The University of Alberta, Canada.
This research was published in JAMA.