Doctors in a Scottish hospital have shown that people suffering from the killer bug Clostridium difficile can be cured with the help of "donor stool" administered via a tube through the nose into their stomach.
Six patients suffering from the severe and potentially fatal form of infectious diarrhoea are currently being treated for infection in an isolation unit at the Victoria Infirmary in Glasgow.
Clostridium difficile is a problem specifically among patients who have been prescribed strong antibiotics because they also wipe out the so-called 'friendly' disease-fighting bacteria in the intestine.
However, faecal 'transplants', as the procedure is known, can restore the bacteria to levels at which they help the recovery process.
The doctors concede that there are "obvious aesthetic problems" in the treatment, which requires patients to ingest a liquidised sample of faeces from a partner or close relative. They however, insist that the treatment has the potential to save the lives of hundreds of patients suffering from the infection.
Doctors at Glasgow's Gartnavel Hospital conducted a trial of 'faecal transplants' on 12 patients for whom antibiotics had failed to stop repeated bouts of the infection.
Nine of the patients had no further incidents of the illness, while one was initially cured but was later re-infected. The remaining two patients had a further bout but then responded well to antibiotics.
"The antibiotics basically upset the delicate ecosystem within the gut and that allows the Clostridium difficile to take over and cause problems," the Scotsman quoted a source close to the study as saying.
Faecal transplants enables doctors to reintroduce friendly bacteria into the gut, from a donor, using 30g of faeces. The key requirement is that donors should not have recently been on antibiotics themselves.
The process, which takes about two weeks, re-colonise the recipient's gut, restoring the health of the large intestine and killing off the bug.
"People with recurrent problems will try anything. This is patient driven. It involves a transplant from the spouse or another relative with a healthy gut. The donor is screened to make sure they do not have Clostridium difficile or anything that the patient would not want to catch," said But Ian Poxton, professor of microbial infection and immunity at the University of Edinburgh and chair of the European Study Group on Clostridium difficile.
"There is something in the faeces that is working and the next step is to isolate that so that it could be made into a treatment," he added.
A report on the faecal transplants' efficacy was presented at to the Scottish Microbiology Society's symposium in Glasgow by Dr Alisdair MacConnachie, specialist registrar in infectious diseases at Gartnavel Hospital.
He said: "This technique is time consuming to set up and suffers from obvious aesthetic problems. However, it does offer a treatment to patients who have repeatedly failed to settle with conventional therapy."