Fecal Transplants Are The Probiotics Of The Future

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WebPhoto: Image Source/REX USA.
If there's one health-related buzzword that's been on everybody's lips lately, it's "probiotics." From Greek yogurt and kefir to countless dubious health supplements and innumerable books on bacteria and digestion, it seems we've become a culture obsessed with those little guys living in our large intestines. Add in our tendency to throw antibiotics at anything and everything (and the experts predicting apocalypse due to antibiotic resistance), and a complete reboot on the bacteria in our colons is starting to sound pretty good.

Well, thanks to the strangely poetic miracles of modern science, another P-word is pushing the frontier of digestive health. A group of Cambridge scientists has started OpenBiome, a sort of transplant bank for...well, poop.

Doctors have long theorized that fecal transplants could have a wide variety of potential applications, most importantly as a cure for C. diff infections, which kill 14,000 people in the U.S. every year. Studies show that treating patients with the stool of a healthy person — administered either orally or using a colonoscope — is twice as effective as using antibiotics in C. diff cases, replacing the good gut bacteria the patient needs to combat the infection.

Enter OpenBiome, a first-of-its-kind, fully functioning bank for healthy stool samples. In its first year, the bank has sent over 130 frozen, pre-screened poop preparations to hospitals around the country. In sourcing and providing these samples, the operation greatly simplifies a process that has proven very difficult for most (clearly squeamish) doctors to undertake on their own.

Which is all well and good, of course. But, some hopeful experts theorize this is just the beginning. As prominent bacteria enthusiast Robynne Chutkan wrote on The Atlantic recently, once the process of collecting and preparing (and ingesting) samples enters the mainstream, there's no reason poop pills have to be confined to the seriously ill. Anyone for a probiotic? (NYT)