Poo Fighters

Bacteria Illustration

Sorry about the bad pun, but we’re talking about, um, fecal transplants. Recently published research in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that for a certain intransigient intestinal ailment, transplanting beneficial microorganisms from a healthy intestinal tract into an ailing one can work miracles.

In the study, fecal transplants quickly cured 15 of 16 people of a debilitating illness caused by a very nasty and stubborn bacteria called Clostridium difficile that antibiotics couldn’t cure. The results drive home the importance of maintaining a balanced and diverse microbiota.

For the transplant, donor feces were blended into a potion that was ported into the patient’s intestine via a tube down the throat. Some patients felt better within a day, and enrollment was halted early because the transplant group fared so much better than a control group.

“The study helps to scientifically prove the high success rates of fecal transplants that we see in our patients: This therapy works,” says Dr. Colleen R. Kelly, a gastroenterologist with the Women’s Medicine Collaborative in Providence, Rhode Island, who was not part of the original trial. As for the unpleasant-sounding methodology, pinpointing the curative strains may someday lead to therapeutic pills or products containing them.

Read more about good bacteria in “Why We Need Germs,” March/April 2013.