Wednesday, November 03, 2010

different poop, same gut

The Scientist | For physicians and researchers alike, fecal transplants present an opportunity to gain insight into disease.

Most people might find the idea of having another person's feces injected into their intestine hard to stomach, but for those with intractable gastrointestinal problems, another person's bodily waste is all that's standing between a lifetime of severe illness and a full recovery.
Image: siteflight via stock.xchng

This therapy -- known as fecal transplants, bacteriotherapy, or human probiotic infusions -- has taken to the limelight in recent years, not only because its gross factor makes for great headlines, but in great part because of the growing epidemic of a particularly toxic strain of Clostridium difficile that has been plaguing hospitals across the U.S. for the past decade and affecting more than a quarter of a million Americans per year.

By producing sturdy spores that can linger in the intestinal tract even after repeated antibiotic treatment, C. difficile can continually give rise to new toxin-producing colonies that wreak havoc on the colon. But these colonies prove no match for fecal transplants, which boast a cure rate of up to 95 percent.

At the heart of these transplants are the trillions of microbes that inhabit the gut and have a profound impact on the host's biology -- for better or worse. As Australian gastroenterologist, Thomas Borody, jokingly puts it, "we are 10 percent human, 90 percent poo."


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