Dear Dr: I’m not sure if you are going to take this question because of the subject, but it seems pretty important. Our father had a stool transplant as the last treatment for C. diff and it worked. Now I have read that they will find other uses for the procedure. Can you talk about it?
Dear Reader: We believe you are right on both counts – that talking about stool transplants makes some people pause, and that recent research into this treatment is opening up a new world of therapeutic potential.
For those unfamiliar with the concept, a stool transplant is a procedure that involves transferring a healthy person’s stool into a sick person’s gastrointestinal tract. Although the first modern application dates back to the late 1950s, stool transplants have only gained wide acceptance in the past decade.
Currently, the procedure is used almost exclusively to treat Clostridioides difficile, or C. diff, a bacterium that causes severe and sometimes life-threatening diarrhea and colitis. The accumulation of bacteria found in healthy stool rebalances the patient’s large intestine, fighting an often stubborn C. diff infection. It is important to note that donors undergo careful screening for this procedure and the stool itself is specially processed. This is treatment that should only be given by trained healthcare professionals and in a hospital.
As research continues to show how the trillions of bacteria, yeasts, fungi, and viruses that make up the gut microbiome are linked to our health and well-being, scientists have begun exploring other therapeutic uses for stool transplants. A new study in mice suggests that a stool transplant from a mother may help protect a newborn baby who is at risk of developing type 1 diabetes from treatment with antibiotics. Researchers in Australia are asking Parkinson’s patients to take part in a medical study to find out if a stool transplant can relieve constipation, a common and challenging symptom of the disease. Clinical trials are ongoing in the United States to investigate how stool transplants can relieve certain symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease, colitis, and multiple sclerosis.
Recently, a study of the potential use of stool transplants to alleviate some of the adverse effects of aging has received a lot of press. In this study, the researchers found that when the stool was transferred from young and healthy mice to older mice, the recipients had improved cognition – including better memory – as well as some physical rejuvenation. In a previous study that reversed the order of stool transplants – from older mice to younger ones – the researchers found that recipients’ cognitive function decreased.
Whether due to illness, disease, or the effects of aging, the composition of an individual’s gut microbiome can change and contain harmful microorganisms that promote inflammation and negatively affect metabolism. These studies investigate whether an infusion of healthy bacteria to repopulate the intestines can have a positive effect on the immune system and metabolic function. It is an exciting and, as you said, an important subject. If the answer is yes, imagine the possibilities.