Quit pooping around, or not, according to a Canadian team at the University of Calgary, poop is the breakthrough cure for the dangerous Clostridium difficile infection that kills approximately 14,000 Americans yearly and sickens more than half a million others.
The “poop” pill is a fecal transplant pill made of soft gelatin capsules stuffed with feces. The feces injected into the pill are taken from one of the patient’s family members, refined and processed until they contain only beneficial bacteria and no fecal matter. Only stools from the patient’s family members are used because they are the closest match to how the patient’s normal intestinal flora (gut flora) was before the infection. C. difficile patients are estimated to swallow 24-34 poop capsules daily. The results of the study came out pretty impressive, about 80% of the tested subjects didn’t have recurrence of the C. difficile infections. The patients tested all had recurrent C. difficile infection that didn’t respond to normal antibiotic treatment. C. difficile infections are characterized by significant diarrhea with a foul stool odor, cramps, fever and headaches. In severe cases C. difficile results in pseudomembranous colitis which is defined as a “severe inflammation of the colon”.
C. difficile usually grows in the intestines in patients who are dosed up on long courses of antibiotic treatment, like transplant patients. These patients have their normal bacterial flora disrupted by antibiotics, allowing for the pathogenic C. difficile to grow instead of the beneficial intestinal bacteria and resulting in such severe and life-threatening symptoms.
Dr. Thomas Louie, the team leader of the researchers performing the study, had been working on this project for a long time. The idea of a fecal transplant pill sounded much more comfortable than the traditional methods of fecal transplant by enemas, nasal tubes or colonoscopies. A lot of patients showed incompliance to nasal tubing because they couldn’t tolerate having a tube pushed down their throat or had incontinence problems and couldn’t retain the enemas in their bowels.
Still the idea of refining the useful bacteria from stool seemed pretty difficult. Dr. Louie had to use centrifugation method to reduce stool into 2 or 3 teaspoons of microbial mud. He piped the muddy substance into a three-layered capsule, one at a time, and then it was ready to be administered by patients. The result was remarkable. Out of the 500-700 C. difficile patients who had had “poop pills”, 90% were cured of any recurrent infection and, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the percentage is even getting higher.
Shawn Mulligan, one of the C. difficile patients who have been treated to the miracle –if somewhat icky- pill, said it was “tasteless, scentless” and not the least bit gross in nature, if it weren’t for the source from which it came from.
More innovations and modifications are being made on Dr. Louie’s creation. Professors at the University of Michigan are deriving a way to freeze fresh stool. This would help in longer duration of preservation of the beneficial bacteria in the stool thus giving it a longer shelf-life and make it easier for transport.
So, will the “poop pill” be a worldwide successful drug delivery form for curing Clostridium difficile infections? It looks like this is actually the first step on a breakthrough revolution in bacteriotherapy.
Written by: Jaylan Salah