As noted at the end of Monday’s lecture, there is now a rather unconventional medical practice being used to treat antibiotic-resistant Clostridium difficile infections. This organism, called “C. diff” in the popular press, causes a truly miserable disease. Patients that have this organism in their gut can be chronically ill, with a terrible quality of life. In severe cases, the infection can be so bad that removal of the colon is sometimes the only remedy.
A few years ago, a handful of medical researchers developed a novel idea – why not replace the gut microbiota of these C. difficile patients with gut contents from healthy donors. When I say “gut contents” you should realize that I am referring to poop. Guess what? It works. As a matter of fact, these so-called Fecal Microbiota Transplants (FMT) work great, with success rates of 90% or higher.
Scientists are now creating fecal banks – collections of gut bacteria from donors that can be stored away and used to treat patients without having to round up fresh material. They are like blood banks. There are even “do-it-yourself” kits and with websites that have detailed instructions. So popular is this treatment, it’s been described in magazines and books.