NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WZTV) - The future of medicine in treating intestinal diseases and saving lives could be found in an unexpected place: your toilet. Your feces, to be exact.
That is the conclusion of a review by Seth Bordenstein, associate professor of biological sciences and pathology, microbiology and immunology at Vanderbilt University. Bordenstein says "there's no doubt poo can save lives."
Bordenstein and his team reviewed studies and literature presented surrounding the practice of fecal transplantation. The method is one which is being increasingly turned to by doctors to treat infections of the gut and, according to Bordenstein, is showing very preliminary promise in treating multiple sclerosis and Crohn's disease.
The process is straightforward: stool from a healthy individual is broken down, strained and transferred to a patient suffering from infection or disease. Since the patient's good bacteria has likely been killed off and taken over by bad bacteria, the transfer of a healthy individual's fecal matter helps to restore good bacteria in the patient's gut. As Bordenstein states in a release by Vanderbilt Research, the process works because it restores the patient's "microbiome."
Each species and even the environment around us has a collection of microbes that create their own environment or community. Just as the Earth consists of multiple environments, so do our bodies. These microbiomes are made up of a collection of genes (microbes) that maintain balance and keep humans healthy. When disease or illness strikes, these microbiomes can be affected. By transferring healthy fecal matter, doctors believe the patient's microbiome is restored back to balance thanks to healthy bacteria, but other factors could also be at play.
Although the research into fecal transplants is still in its infancy, Bordenstein's research points out fecal matter also contains viruses, fungi, metabolites, colonocytes (cells protecting the colon), and archaea -- single-cell organisms. While adding good bacteria to an infected patient's gut has been found to be effective, these other components of fecal matter could play larger roles and potentially help develop other therapies for other diseases. The Fecal Transplant Foundation says fecal transplantation is also showing promise in treating other auto-immune diseases, such as irritable bowel syndrome and ulcerative colitis.
Fecal transplantation has been found to produce a 95-percent cure rate in patients suffering from C. difficile colitis, an infection that causes the colon to swell and could be deadly. C. difficile colitis can be transferred from one person to the next and is often found in nursing homes and hospitals. Studies in mice have also shown fecal transplants could have an impact on obesity and body composition. Sterile mice were turned into fat mice when transplants from fat mice were administered and sterile mice turned into lean mice when sterile mice received fecal transplants from lean mice. Bordenstein says "we've just scratched the surface" in understanding the potential of poo and closer looks at how bacteria in obese people differs from that of thin people is currently being researched.
While we are still far from truly understanding all of the potential in fecal transplantation, these early findings are showing promise in creating a new wave of scientific breakthroughs and treating disease. All from one of the last places we would have thought to look, the toilet.