A Dutch research team says transplanting human feces from a healthy person to a sick person can cure a common and severe intestinal infection that antibiotics cannot control.
The human gut is filled with billions of useful and protective bacteria. But those bacteria can be wiped out when people with infections are treated with a long course of antibiotics. That can leave them vulnerable to new and potentially more dangerous infections. Many hospital patients in this condition become infected with a potent bacterium called Clostridium difficile. Symptoms of diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting frequently return after treatment with more medicine.
In the first controlled trial using donor stool to restore the gut's normal balance of bacteria, gastroenterologist Josbert Keller, in The Hague, was able to cure 13 of the 16 study participants infected with C. difficile, with just one infusion of the fecal mixture. Two others were cured with a follow-up treatment. Use of antibiotics alone cured only seven of the 26 infected patients in two comparison groups.
The healthy donor stool, mixed into a saline solution that Keller says resembles chocolate milk, can be introduced to the sick person's intestinal tract through a colonoscopy, through a nasal tube into the lower stomach, or by enema.
Fecal therapy is often used to treat livestock, and there are references to it in ancient Chinese medical texts. Keller calls it "the most powerful probiotic you can imagine." His study is published in the New England Journal of Medicine.