Popping Poop Pills

Fecal Transplant Fights Dangerous Gut Infection

by Georgina Hartono (Staff Writer)

A study led by professor Thomas Louie of the University of Calgary suggests that gel caps filled with concentrated fecal microbes terminate Clostridium difficile infection, which causes severe diarrhea, three or more times a day for several days, with unbearable abdominal pain. Cases of C. difficile range from mild to lethal, and some of the more severe cases can lead to the emergence of holes in the intestines. As the most infectious cause of intestinal bacteria in the United States, Clostridium difficile bacteria is named one of the three most urgent threats in the Centers for Disease Control on antibiotics as it kills 14,000 Americans and sickens half a million annually.

How does one become infected? After people consume antibiotics, the good harmless bacteria in their gastrointestinal system are wiped out. Since the balance
of these digestive organisms is upset, C. difficile and other harmful bacterium are able to prosper. As the bacteria overgrow out of control, they attack the lining of the intestines by releasing toxins, which lead to severe diarrhea.

How does fecal matter cure this painful illness? To put patients out of their misery, doctors have transplanted excrements into their gastrointestinal system to rebalance it by reintroducing good, harmless bacteria back into their system, and prevent infections from recurring. Typically, these transplants are delivered by colonoscopy, nose tube or enema, but these methods are only successful in 9 out 10 patients. Luckily, Thomas Louie and his team of researchers have found a new, ingenious, effective method of delivery.

What method have they discovered? Fecal transplants in pill form, a method that is taken orally, is safer and less invasive to the patients than using enemas and complicated tubes. Louie, lead author of the study, confirms, “[The pills] are easier for patients and are well-tolerated. It’s an exciting development in the field and could possibly even be used to maintain the balance of bacteria in the gastrointestinal system in patients at risk for C. diff.” Dr. Louie and his team of researchers gave their 27 patients, who previously had four bouts of the infection, pills, and none of them had a recurrence of the infection. Louie developed the first pills for fecal transplantation when the enema method was not effective on one of his patients who was also intolerant to the procedure involving a nasal tube. To make the capsules, which are made individually, feces from qualified donors, usually family members of the patients, are processed until they only contain bacteria. They are then encapsulated inside three layers of gelatin capsule, which ensures the pills will not leak until they are inside the small intestine. Although the research of these pills is still in its development stages, thanks to the success and the media attention it is garnering, it won’t be long until this new method of feces transplantation can be easily accessible to the poop-ulation.

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