TUESDAY, Nov. 1 (HealthDay News) -- They sound disgusting, but
doctors say "fecal transplants" -- once shunned by the medical
establishment -- are proving useful against a range of
gastrointestinal ailments, new research says.
Presenting at the American College of Gastroenterology annual
meeting in Washington, D.C., researchers report that the therapy
can ease severe irritable bowel syndrome and nasty bacterial
Fecal microbiota transplant (FMT) involves taking feces from a
donor, typically a spouse or relative though it could be anyone,
after a light colonoscopy prep.
That sample is then mixed "with some saline so that it's a
consistency that can be aspirated into 60 cc syringes," explained
Dr. Mark Mellow, one of the researchers presenting findings at the
The patient then undergoes a routine colonoscopy during which
the mixture is inserted. The idea is that this new, transplanted
population of healthy flora will correct the patient's underlying
problem and it does seem to work.
Some of the most encouraging research comes in the form of three
studies which demonstrated the procedure's effectiveness against
recalcitrant infection with the bacterium
Clostridium difficile. The bug can cause disabling and even life-threatening diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain.
"Patients who have multiple
C. difficile recurrences have a totally different population
of bacteria that normal people do," said Mellow, who is medical
director of the Digestive Health Center at Integris Baptist Medical
Center in Oklahoma City. "The key thing is a marked decrease in
diversity so, instead of having tons of different strains of
microorganisms, they have many less strains and species than many
In Mellow's study, 98 percent of patients with
C. difficile who hadn't responded to a mean of five previous
treatment courses saw rapid resolution of their symptoms -- if not
with the first FMT transplant, then with a second.
The patients had been suffering for a mean of 11 months and many
were ill enough to be in acute-care or skilled nursing facilities
or homebound, Mellow said.
Dr. David Bernstein, chief of gastroenterology at North Shore
University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y., said: "It seems that this
is potentially a phenomenal treatment for
C. difficile infection, especially those that are refractory.
This works and it's dramatic how quickly it works.
C. difficile is becoming a greater problem in hospitals, and
we're seeing more resistance and morbidity and mortality," he
Although it might seem difficult to find a volunteer, Bernstein
felt that acceptance among patients would be high because "they've
done so much already that has failed. They're desperate."
The transplants would not be first-line treatment for patients,
however, Mellow said.
Researchers in Australia also reported success using FMT to
treat ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease in three patients. In
all cases, symptoms improved within days or weeks.
Other studies being presented at the meeting found effectiveness
with probiotics, live "friendly bacteria" similar to those found
naturally in the gut. The idea is similar to an FMT transplant but
probiotics are generally sold as dietary supplements or come in
foods such as yogurt.
Mayo Clinic has more on
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