What are fecal transplants
If this is the first time you've ever heard of fecal transplants, also known as bacteriotherapy, you may be wondering how exactly it's done. Here's how it works: Someone with a thriving microbiome—with a variety of healthy bacteria—donates a stool sample. According to a report published in the journal Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology, "super-donors" are those whose microbiomes are swarming with good bacteria—ideal candidates to provide material for fecal transplants. All donors and bacteriotherapy recipients are screened for HIV, and hepatitis A, B, and C. Donors also should not have had antibiotics in the past six months (which wipe out all bacteria, good and bad), have any tattoos or piercings in the past six months, have a history of drug use, a history of risky sexual behavior, have recently traveled to areas known to have high rates of disease, or have any chronic gut issues. With the help of these super poopers, doctors are working to eradicate irritable bowel syndrome, allergies, type 2 diabetes, asthma, Alzheimer's disease, and certain cancers.
Then, someone who is diagnosed with a compromised gut—low in good bacteria—will receive the healthy stool sample via a colonoscopy, where the donor's stool is delivered into the colon. Bacteriotherapies definitely aren't done for fun. Potential recipients tend to suffer from c. difficile colitis, a colon infection that damages the colon's lining. Typically, antibiotics are tried first, but if it doesn't work, bacteriotherapy could be an option.
Why fecal transplants can be beneficial
Wondering what makes poop can so powerful? By now you've probably heard rumblings that the microbiome—a highly complex ecosystem of microbes living throughout the body—is the key to, well, everything. Too much bad bacteria can result in inflammation, which manifests in a variety of ways. In many cases, where antibiotics have failed, fecal microbiota transplantation has found success.
"We know already that changes to the gut microbiome can contribute to disease, based on studies in germ-free mice as well as clinical improvement in human patients following restoration of the gut microbiome by transplanting stool from a healthy donor," says senior author of the study Justin O'Sullivan, PhD. In fact, a fecal transplant has helped cure recurrent diarrheal infection more than 90 percent of the time—not too shabby! (Trials for IBS and diabetes, however, produced a lower success rate of about 20 percent.)
To participate in fecal transplantation, donors must meet a series of requirements to ensure their sample will be suitable for donation. A blood test and initial stool test is standard. Once approved, donors give their, um, donation by scooping a small piece of poop into a test tube. (Don't worry, you'll be provided with a little pooper scooper.) The lucky recipient of your donation typically receives the transplant via colonoscopy.
Talk about flushing away disease. (Sorry, not sorry!)
Originally published January 24, 2019. Updated September 23, 2019.
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