Okay, technically it’s not called a poop transplant. The actual name of the procedure is fecal microbiota transplant, FMT for short.
FMT is based on a simple idea: Take a sample of bacteria from the gut of a healthy individual and transfer it to someone who’s got a disease, like Crohn’s or colitis, two inflammatory bowel diseases with no known cure.
The collection of bacteria and other microorganisms living in the human GI tract is known as the gut microbiome. It contains trillions of microorganisms that help keep us healthy.
For reasons we still don’t fully understand, some people have a microbiome that struggles to maintain a healthy ratio of helpful to harmful bacteria. So, the idea is to set the balance right by transplanting good bacteria. This can sort of jump start the growth of more beneficial microorganisms in someone’s gut. Eventually the good guys push the harmful, inflammatory bacteria out of the way, or at least stop them from wreaking havoc.
Researchers have effectively used FMT to treat patients with C. diff, a potentially fatal bacterial infection. Based on this success, they started trying it on people with Crohn’s and colitis.
And how, exactly?
There are several ways to transfer gut bacteria from one person to another. All of them involve taking feces (poop samples) from a healthy donor and placing it in the gut of a recipient. It’s usually done by enema, colonoscopy, or orogastric tube, a tiny tube inserted through the mouth or nose leading all the way to the tummy. In some cases, researchers have even used frozen pills of donor feces.
The latest on FMT for Inflammatory Bowel Disease
So far, FMT has had a lot of success…for C. diff. In fact, back in 2013, the FDA officially approved the use of FMT for treating C. diff infections.
When it comes to IBD, results are promising but not overwhelming. As this article from the National Institute of Health says, FMT for IBD should be used with caution until better trials are completed. What’s clear so far is that FMT is not as effective for inflammatory bowel disease as it is for C. diff.
Results do shed light on the fact that the microbiome can play a major role in IBD. This lends credibility to treatment options centered around the microbiome, like diet and lifestyle modifications.
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