A patient suffering from a serious gut infection of Clostridium difficile came to Dr. Alexander Khoruts, a Gastroenterologist at the University of Minnesota in 2008. Dr. Khoruts used an array of antibiotics to treat the woman confined to a wheelchair in diapers, crippled by excessive diarrhea till he ran out of options to control the bacteria. The woman was not responding to the treatment and was losing 60 pounds in eight months and nearly dying.
It was then that Dr. Khoruts decided the patient needed a transplant and instead of transplanting a piece of someone else's intestine, or a stomach, he gave the woman some of her husband's bacteria. Dr. Khoruts mixed a small sample of her husband's stool with saline solution and delivered it into the woman's colon. The chronic diarrhea vanished in a day, as reported by Dr. Khoruts and his colleagues in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology last month. The patient's Clostridium difficile infection had completely disappeared and has not returned since.
AdvertisementBacteriotherapy or fecal transplantation, as the procedure is known, has been performed on patients a few times over the past few decades. But for the first time Dr. Khoruts and his team took a genetic survey of the bacteria in the patient's intestines before and after the fecal transplant. The doctors observed that before the transplant her gut flora looked very desperate. When the doctors analyzed the microbes again, two weeks after the transplant, they found that her husband's microbes had taken over. Janet Jansson, a microbial ecologist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a co-author of the paper, said, "That community was able to function and cure her disease in a matter of days. I didn't expect it to work. The project blew me away."
Of the 15 more fecal transplants carried out by Dr. Khoruts and his colleagues 13 have cured their patients. The doctors are currently analyzing the microbiome of their patients to identify which species are wiping out the Clostridium difficile infections. Dr. Khoruts hopes that the crude transplants will eventually make way for what he jokingly refers to as "God's probiotic"—a pill containing microbes whose potential to fight infections has been scientifically proved.