Are fecal transplants the future of medicine?

Click to play video: 'Health Matters: Feb 3' Health Matters: Feb 3
WATCH ABOVE: On Wednesday's edition of Health Matters, Su-Ling Goh has the latest on how the Zika virus is impacting blood donations and also looks at how fecal matter can actually be used for medicinal purposes – Feb 4, 2016

EDMONTON – Placing someone else’s feces into your body probably doesn’t sound pleasant, but Dr. Dina Kao says some people would do anything to try it.

“Sometimes I still get emails from desperate patients telling me they couldn’t get a stool transplant within their own province,” Kao said. “I just think that’s very sad.”

The University of Alberta gastroenterologist and researcher has been performing fecal transplants in patients with various health conditions. Her team’s most successful results so far are for C. difficile (or “superbug”) infections, with a nearly 100 per cent cure rate in about 200 patients.

“When you see (the patients) in follow-up, and they tell you they feel great, their appetite is back, their energy level is back, their life is back on track,” Kao said, “it’s just so rewarding to see that.”

Fecal transplants restore the healthy bacteria in a sick person’s gut. Kao’s team collects stool from healthy donors, processes it, and delivers it to patients either through colonoscopy or orally, inside capsules.

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Kao has also shown a 60 per cent success rate for Crohn’s disease, and good results for one man with hepatic encephalopathy, a common complication of liver cirrhosis, which causes confusion and paranoia.

“(The patient) is able to concentrate better, and he’s not slurring his speech,” Kao said.

Canada seems to be catching on to the potential of poo. Last year, Health Canada announced it was open to allowing fecal transplants outside of clinical trials, posting guidelines online for screening donors. And a recent Canadian Medical Association Journal commentary called for a universal donor model–a national stool bank.

Similar to a blood bank, a stool bank would collect, test and store donations from numerous donors. In the United States, there is a stool bank called OpenBiome. In Canada, that process is currently up to the few centres offering fecal transplants in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia.

For her studies, Kao screens four young, healthy stool donors regularly. She says a national bank would be more efficient and cost-effective. Plus, anything that might improve access to a promising treatment, she says, is a good thing.

“(The interest) just speaks to how important the gut bacteria are to our overall health… That’s something I think people are starting to appreciate.”


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