Fecal transplants can be life-saving for people with stubborn bacterial infections, but they’re not for the faint of heart. So doctors have come up with a way to make them more palatable: the frozen poop pill.
People infected with Clostridium difficile suffer debilitating diarrhea, but the bug often defies antibiotics. The infection killing up to 14,000 people a year in the United States alone. Doctors have recently discovered that a fecal transplant will restore good gut bacteria that banishes the C. diff. But the procedure is awkward, requiring a donation of fresh feces, usually from a relative, and a colonoscopy to deliver it.
Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital figured they could improve on that. First they tried delivering the fecal transplant through a tube snaked down the nose and into the stomach. It delivered the healthy bugs but wasn’t much fun.
A pill wouldn’t require invasive procedures, the researchers speculated, and would be less likely to cause vomiting. And if they froze the pills, donors wouldn’t need to be standing by.
To test that hypothesis, the researchers got donations from young, healthy volunteers screened to make sure they didn’t have HIV, hepatitis or other infectious diseases. They froze the material and waited four weeks to test the donors again. Once the donors got a clean bill of health, pill production began.
Patients going through the treatment take a total of 15 pills a day for two days. Using pills is far less invasive that the alternatives, even if it is a little gross. Here is a picture of the culprit, Clostridium difficile colitis.
The Mass General group has since treated another 21 people with the pills, with similar success. The results were announced Saturday at the IDWeek meeting in Philadelphia and published in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association.