Photographed by Jessica Nash.
The small study, published last week in JAMA, saw how well fecal transplants (in the form of frozen pills) could treat 20 persistent cases of the diarrhea-causing and potentially-deadly Clostridium difficile infection (C. diff.). Patients received 15 capsules filled with a special blend of saline and fecal matter from four healthy donors for two days (30 pills total) and then followed up for six months to make sure there were no adverse effects. The results showed that the pills were effective at treating recurring diarrhea in 90% of patients.
Previously, fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT) was performed through colonoscopy. Although this proved extremely effective at treating C. diff infections, FDA regulations make it difficult for U.S. researchers to investigate the procedure. And, despite a growing interest in synthetic poop and DIY fecal transplants, doctors are often reluctant to actually do the deed. So, these pills are the kind of thing patients have been wanting for years; they're self-contained, and you can self-administer them.
Essentially, FMT replaces any missing or harmful gut bacteria with helpful ones in order to restore some balance to your microbiome. So, while most of the studies of FMT have shown it to be effective at treating C diff. infections, it has also been used to treat irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease (including Crohn's).
However, this is just a preliminary study, so more has to be done before we can really expect to see poop-filled pills being prescribed. But, with the high success rate and absence of bad side effects, this study is still a big step for poop. And, as C. diff becomes more and more resistant to our big-gun antibiotics, treatments like FMT will be even more important. It may be number two, but it wins first prize in this department.