Fecal Transplants: What They Are and What They’re Doing
A fecal transplant, also known as fecal biotherapy (FBT) or fecal microbiota transplant (FMT), is the administration of fecal matter from a healthy donor to a recipient. The donor may or may not be related to the recipient. In some cases, fecal matter can be transferred via a naso-gastric tube, but fewer side effects are observed when fecal transplants are administered via an enema.
The idea of using feces from a healthy person to treat the sick is not new — it dates back to ancient Chinese healers — but the treatment has recently become popular again as people learn more about the role of gastrointestinal microbes in health and disease.
Fecal transplants are commonly used to treat a reoccurring gastrointestinal infection known as a Clostridium difficile infection. For chronic C. diff infections, fecal transplant is lifesaving and successful 95 percent of the time. Researchers are examining the therapeutic potential of fecal transplants to treat chronic gastrointestinal diseases (rather than infections), such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
So, why does fecal transplant work? The answer to this question, surprisingly, is unknown. In terms of C. diff infections, researchers think that the good bacteria from the healthy donor’s stool kick out the bad bacteria, in effect stopping the infection, and recolonize the gut themselves.
Currently, fecal transplant is approved only for patients with C. diff and should not be completed without approval or supervision of a doctor. There is a do-it-yourself fecal transplant movement for people with other gastrointestinal disorders, but the risks can be significant. Numerous pathogenic microbes are passed through the feces, so transmission of disease from the donor to the recipient is a major concern. Monitoring by a doctor can not only ensure the safety of the procedure but also measure whether the therapy is working.