Fecal transplants are changing patients’ lives

Watch above: It may sound unpleasant, but an Edmonton doctor is using fecal transplants to make a huge difference for patients who are incredibly sick. Su-Ling Goh explains.

EDMONTON – Who knew human waste could be valuable to our health? An Edmonton doctor is one of the few in Canada performing a kind of transplant with a big “ick” factor: fecal.

Dr. Dina Kao, a gastroenterologist at the University of Alberta, has been treating patients with recurring clostridium difficile infection (RCDI). All the cases started with a different kind of infection, treated with antibiotics, which destroyed the “beneficial” bacteria in their gut. That left their digestive systems unable to fight off C. difficile, which led to severe, prolonged diarrhea.

“We started in 2012. So far we have treated 106 patients who have recurring clostridium difficile,” said Dr. Kao. “Usually when people are given an antibiotic for whatever infection we are treating, it is not specific just for that infection. It will also wipe out a lot of the good bacteria in our gut.”

Story continues below advertisement

A fecal transplant involves a donor, a patient, and, well… poo.

READ MORE: ‘Ick’ factor notwithstanding, patients would accept fecal transplants: survey 

First, a person with healthy gut bacteria donates their stool. After processing, it is transplanted into the patient through one of three ways: a colonoscopy, a feeding tube into the stomach or pills. Kao’s team is currently testing the pill method.

Kao has had patients improve drastically in a few short days. In one case, a patient with severe C. difficile went from having 10 to 15 bowel movements a day, to a normal number – just three days after receiving a transplant.

Although fecal transplants are a relatively new treatment option, Kao says the idea dates back thousands of years to traditional Chinese practices.

“The first documented use of fecal transplant was in fourth century China, when they were using fecal transplant to treat all sorts of ailments.”

According to Kao, the “ick” factor is what is preventing most people from looking into fecal transplants, even though those who undergo the treatments experience drastic improvements to their health.

“Dr. Kao saved my life, she really did. [She] gave me back my life,” said Susan Brothen.

Story continues below advertisement

Brothen had a blocked saliva gland that was treated with an antibiotic. She was on the drug for two days, but that weakened her gut microbiome enough for her to contract C. difficile. More antibiotics for that infection resulted in four months of severe diarrhea.

While she was ill, Brothen says she was only able to go out for a few hours a day because she had to stay near the toilet. She lost 30 pounds. Then she met Dr. Kao, who performed a fecal transplant.

READ MORE: A transplant that can save guts  

“It’s such an easy procedure to go through. And then, it’s the next day that everything changes….Dr. Kao is such a nice doctor, she is so caring and you really believe in her and her group. I can’t say enough. And thank you to my donor whoever that donor is, because they changed my life… brought it back to normal.”

Brothen was asleep during the transplant. She says she woke up after it was completed, surprised that it had been so simple.

Previous research has shown fecal transplants could be effective for inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, multiple sclerosis, and even autism. Kao is now testing fecal transplants on patients with Crohn’s colitis and ulcerative colitis. She estimates the procedure could save the health care system approximately $70,000 per patient.

Story continues below advertisement

With files from Su-Ling Goh, Global News

Sponsored content