Microbiome and Disease: Fecal Transplants

Fecal transplants, also known as fecal microbiota transplants (FMT), may be a cure to the 14,000 deaths per year from Clostridium difficile (C. difficile).  They are a quick and inexpensive outpatient procedure with a 90% cure rate.  Gastrointestinologist Sahil Khanna from the Mayo Clinic  expands on the procedure, “normal bacteria gets destroyed every time you get an infection and are treated for it. When a transplant is done, you are given someone else’s healthy bacteria, and it’s from a person who has been screened for infections in the blood and stool. The donor can be from the family or outside the family.” 

Fecal Transplants and the FDA

The FDA does not entirely support the procedure, so doctors were labeling it clinical practice, so that they could treat patients.  However, the FDA has recently cracked down on the procedure by requiring more paperwork, including an “investigational new drug application” and a longer waiting period of 30 days, before doctors can perform a fecal transplant.  Even then, after all the paperwork and waiting, approval for the procedure is not guaranteed. 

Success Stories

Fecal transplants have been around for over 500 years to treat animals and over 50 years to treat humans with different strains of colitis.

One of the most remarkable recent success stories is Jesse, the youngest patient to receive the transplant.  At just 20 months, Jesse suffered from C. difficile.  After nine months of countless antibiotics, which did nothing to help the toddler, doctors told mother Tatum that there was one last hope to save her son; a fecal transplant.  Tatum consented to the procedure without hesitation and Jesse became the youngest person to be cured by the transplant.

The Huffington Post offers a number of similar success stories and more explanation on the FDA controversy.

The transplants are also making headway in Europe where there are fewer restrictions on medical practices.

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