The Odd Blog

And when our cubs grow / We'll show you what war is good for

Fascinating yet rather icky medical procedure

Posted by That Other Mike on 01/01/2008

(HT to a commenter at Pharyngula who linked to it)

Faecal transplants. Yes, you read that correctly. Faecal transplants.

The procedure, as documented here at Aetiology, is based around the replacement of bad gut bacteria with good ones.

As we all know from our science classes or from watching probiotic drink adverts, our guts are absolutely teeming with bacteria. They help us to digest our food, maintain our immune system and act as a kind of block to harmful bacteria getting in.

However, as Dr Smith at Aetiology mentions, sometimes unhealthy bacteria end up booting out the healthy variety or colonise when a broad spectrum antibiotic wipes them out during treatment for something else.

Some of the unhealthy bacteria, such as Clostridium difficile, can be as difficult to shift as that last annoying guest who just won’t leave when you’re trying to wind down the party at 3:00 a.m. C. difficile is rather nasty in its effects – it produces several toxins which cause bowel inflammation and recurrent severe diarrhoea. In bad cases, patients are effectively looking at a life surrounded by white tiles, and in the worst it can even kill.

Faecal transplants basically involve straining out all the bad stuff from a healthy person’s stools (like the excreted toxins, waste matter and so on) to leave a soup of healthy bacteria, which is then introduced into the patient by enema or directly into the small intestine by nasogastric tube.

There is apparently a 95% success rate in treating C. difficile using this method.

Fascinating stuff, and it looks to have a lot of potential medical applications. It still has the yuk factor, though this may lessen once it’s been more thoroughly researched and more widely applied.

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