Dr. Christine Lee, an infectious disease physician, poses in a lab at St. Joseph's Healthcare (hospital) at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, November 22, 2012. For patients hit hardest by the bacterium Clostridium difficile, also known as C. diff, getting a "stool transplant" could become a standard treatment within just a few years. Lee has more performed than 100 of the experimental procedure that is proving to be a godsend to patients. (Photo : Reuters)
Fecal transplants cure a difficult case of diarrhea better than antibiotics, says a new study.
The procedure involves introducing feces from a healthy donor into the intestinal tract of a sick patient, in the hopes that the beneficial bacteria from the host will take hold.
"The scatological treatment may seem more medieval than modern, but over the past decade, doctors have increasingly stopped snickering and started to try it -- with promising results," writes the Boston Globe.
"There is now a flurry of new trials at cutting-edge medical centers in Boston and elsewhere, and on Wednesday, a rigorous randomized trial published by Dutch researchers found that most patients with serious, recurrent infections caused by the bacteria C. difficile got better when donor feces were infused into their intestines. That study was halted early because the patients fared so much better than a group given standard antibiotic therapy."
Medical trials are often halted early if one of the control groups is doing so much better than the other that it would be medically irresponsible not to offer the other group the better treatment.
Of course, never mind if the treatment works; it's gross, right?
"There's an aesthetic factor. There's a gross factor that wigs people out a little bit," said George Russell, pediatric gastroenterologist at Massachusetts General Hospital. "But I think people get over it, and it makes sense to them intuitively."
But it works, and in almost all cases.
"As a treatment for recurrent Clostridium difficile infection -- an ailment that affects nearly 1% of patients hospitalized in the U.S. and plays a role in an estimated 100,000 deaths a year -- the transplant had a 94% cure rate, three times greater than for those who took only the antibiotic vancomycin," says the Los Angeles Times.
The new study may sway skeptics and give more support to doctors who are already aware of the benefits of the odd procedure.
"It's a strange concept to use stool, which has always been looked on as something dirty," said Dr. Lawrence Brandt, a gastroenterologist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. "We're entering a very exciting new chapter in medicine."