“A promising new study puts a decidedly positive spin on the epithet ‘eat sh**.’ ” according to the Huffington Post.
The study shows that pills containing human fecal matter are an effective treatment for people suffering from potentially deadly infections caused by the bacterium known as Clostridium difficile.
The pills may be a more palatable alternative to existing methods of administering so-called fecal microbiota transplants (FMT), a.k.a. fecal bacteriotherapy–a treatment proven to curb the severe diarrhea and other symptoms that characterize C. diff infections.
One of the scientists involved in the study named Dr. Ilan Youngster said in a written statement released by the hospital that “Numerous reports have shown that FMT is effective in treating active C. difficile infection and preventing recurrences in patients whose infections failed to respond to standard treatments.”.
Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital needed a way of delivering the fecal transplant other than a colonoscopy. First they tried delivering it through a tube snaked down the nose and into the stomach. It delivered the healthy bugs but wasn’t much fun.
“Just getting the tube down is a problem,” Dr. Elizabeth Hohmann, a staff physician in infectious diseases at Mass General, told Shots. And the doctors worried that if people gagged and vomited, they could inhale fecal matter. “That’s pretty scary.”
According to NPR, a pill wouldn’t require invasive procedures, the researchers speculated, and would be less likely to cause vomiting. And if they froze the pills, donors wouldn’t need to be standing by.
To test that hypothesis, the researchers got donations from young, healthy volunteers screened to make sure they didn’t have HIV, hepatitis or other infectious diseases. They froze the material and waited four weeks to test the donors again. Once the donors got a clean bill of health, pill production began.
And acid-resistant capsules only come in translucent. “So they are sort of brownish-colored capsules,” Hohmann says. “Fortunately, because they’re frozen, when you take them out of the freezer they sort of frost up a bit and they’re not too gross.”
Twenty people with recurrent C. diff infections took 15 pills a day, about the size of a large multivitamin, for two days. Fourteen of them were free of diarrhea almost immediately, with no recurrences.
The other six tried the treatment again; that did the trick for four of them. The two people who failed to get results were in poorer health overall, the study found. But the treatment worked for people from age 11 to age 89.
The Mass General group has since treated another 21 people with the pills, with similar success. The results were announced Saturday at the IDWeek meeting in Philadelphia and published in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association.
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