Pills of frozen poo

These pills contain frozen poo, and are being tried as a new treatment for intestinal infections. Image: Courtesy of the Hohmann Laboratory, Massachusetts General Hospital

Written by Julia Cleghorn

As gross as it may sound, doctors are now trialling poo to treat some patients. In a new study, capsules full of fecal matter – otherwise known as poo – have been found to cure infections in the intestines!

The bacteria inside us

The idea behind using feces as a medicine lies in the bacteria that live in your gut, which are known as gut flora. When you are sick, the balance of the gut flora is disrupted. Introducing a healthy strain of bacteria into the gut (via foreign fecal matter) is thought to restore the normal balance and help fight the problem.

Poo transplants

In the past, this has been investigated by doctors who – believe it or not – transplanted fresh poo into the guts of patients who had an intestinal infection. The process is known as FMT, or fecal microbiota transplantation. It worked in treating the condition, but was rather impractical.

As an alternative, doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital in the United States tried giving frozen FMT capsules to 20 patients who had an intestinal infection of Clostridium difficile bacteria. This infection causes bloating, diarrhoea and pain. The current treatment is not working effectively, so doctors are looking to replace it using FMT. In the trial, patients took 15 FMT capsules over two consecutive days. After six months, 90 per cent of the patients were cured!

Sharing is caring

But, where did the poo come from? Where else, but volunteer donations! Before the donated feces were used in the treatment, they went through a careful process of screening and testing.

While the trial was successful, it was only a small study. Larger studies are needed to confirm the results and improve the treatment. As for us, we can all be thankful that doctors are hard at work to keep us healthy – even if the medicine doesn’t sound all that appetising.

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