Fecal transplants, a process in which bacteria-containing fecal matter from the human intestinal tract is transplanted from healthy people to people with Clostridium dificile infections, offers many benefits, scientists say.
Researchers at the Institute for Genome Sciences at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, working along with doctors at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore, MD, say they have found that using fecal transplants in people with C. difficile infections helps to restore the normal, healthy composition of gut bacteria and fight off invading, disease-causing bacteria.
C. difficile, sometimes referred to as simply C. diff., is one of the most common infections which people pick up during hospital stays. About 20 percent of people on standard antibiotic therapy will acquire infections due to overgrowth of C. difficile. In people who receive additional antibiotic therapy, the rate is even higher.
While some C. difficile infections are fairly mild, others may be so severe that they can lead to death. Symptoms of a C. difficile infection include watery diarrhea, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, fever, blood or pus in the feces and weight loss.
The healthcare costs associated with these infections have been on the rise in recent years, with an estimated cost of $800 million in the U.S. alone. In addition, about 14,000 deaths per year can be attributed to these infections.
People with C. difficile tend to have fewer types of beneficial bacteria living in their guts because heavy antibiotic use kills off these species, allowing harmful bacteria like C. difficile to grow and flourish. Fecal transplants have received a great deal of attention because they offer the promise of restoring a healthy mix of gut bacteria. In fact, fecal transplants have already been helpful to many patients. With this treatment gaining more and more popularity, the team of scientists wanted to see if they could determine just how fecal transplants affect patients in the long run and whether there were any long-term problems that should be taken into consideration.
For their study, they looked at a large group of patients who had received fecal transplants, as well as the healthy people who made the donations. The study participants were sampled several times up to one year after the treatment was performed. Doing this allowed the scientists to see how the patients’ mix of gut bacteria changed over time.
The researchers found that fecal transplants offered many benefits to those who received them, including the resolution of C. difficile infections and the restoration of a normal balance of gut bacteria.
This type of research is important, the team says, because it could lead to better treatment methods, possibly involving a manufactured blend of gut bacteria, rather than having to use actual fecal matter to obtain the correct mix.
Understanding how gut bacteria influence health could also have implications in the treatment of other conditions, such as diabetes and obesity, which also seem to have links to intestinal bacteria composition.
By Nancy Schimelpfening