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Canadian researchers have discovered that using stool bacteria in capsules can treat patients suffering from Clostridium difficile (C.diff) infections, a method significantly less invasive than faecal transplants. C.diff is an infection that mainly affects the elderly, and causes severe digestive problems such as cramping, diarrhoea and nausea. It affects up to half a million Americans each year, of which around 14,000 cases will be fatal.
Recent studies have demonstrated that faecal implants from healthy donors can restore the balance of good bacteria in the gut, but it involves expensive and invasive procedures and results have been variable.
The less invasive and seemingly more effective method of using stool bacteria in a capsule was devised by Dr Thomas Louie, a specialist in infectious disease at the University of Calgary. The procedure involves extracting bacteria from a health donor, usually a relative, which is then cleaned in a laboratory and packed into triple-gel coated capsules. This ensures that the capsules will not dissolve until they reach the intestines. Dr Louie clarifies that “There’s no stool left – just stool bugs. These people are not eating poop”. This particular study was carried out on 27 patients and cured all 27 of them, despite strong antibiotics not being able to help.
The patients are firstly given antibiotics to kill the C. diff, followed by an enema so the bacteria are introduced to a ‘clean’ environment. The bacteria are contained in as many as 24-34 capsules, which the patients swallow and the pills then colonise the colon with a variety of bacteria.
The work of creating stool bacteria capsules has been praised by Dr Curtis Donskey of the Cleveland Veterans Affairs Medical Centre, who has carried out faecal transplants through colonoscopies. Doctors are now testing ways in which to store the bacteria without killing it, such as freezing to enable it to be stored and shipped to anywhere that a patient required it.
These studies have shown the potential for stool bacteria pills to support those with severely imbalanced gut flora, such as those resistant to antibiotics. Dr Donskey summarised the exciting research by saying, “This approach, to me, has wide application in medicine. So it’s not just about C. diff.”