The ‘faecal’ bank…
Welcome to The Gene Gym on SciLogs.com.
I'm going to take great license to wander around numerous areas that overlap, nudge, cajole and nestle up against the main theme of my blog, which is of course bug and drugs.
So firstly, a brain dump:
A colleague and I once – rather drunkenly – planned a letter to The Lancet [a popular medical journal] in which we describe a means by which one might ‘bank’ a sample of ones faecal matter [shit] (comprising a cross-section of a healthy gut microflora), prior to departing on an exotic holiday, or undergoing antibiotic treatment. The premise was that any insult or injury arising from catching a bout of traveller’s Delhi-Belly, or depletion of the gut flora from chemotherapy, could be abated by having your original gut flora restored from your earlier banked sample. The service would naturally be called, the ‘Shit Bank’.
This would not, however, be a bank to provide samples to others. Faecal transfer is not without hazard, and screening it for a multitude of nasty bugs and viruses would be difficult. Furthermore, your faecal matter is a product of your own enviornment and diet, so faecal transplantation has always been most effective when the doner is from a close familial/spousal relationship sharing the same resources.
The point of the Shit Bank would be to restore unto you, your very own faecal matter (taken during a period of good health) in the same manner that one might bank samples of blood plasma if being stationed in a remote part of the world.
The pressing issue, however, is defining the means by which such faecal matter could be stored. The gut microbiota consists of hundreds of microorganisms, each adapted to specific regions of the gut, and many of which cannot be cultured in the laboratory. Such organisms are refered to as ‘fastidious’, essentially meaning that they’re tough to please. So providing a stable home for them while they’re not, actually, ‘at home’ will prove an issue; will the samples be frozen in a special medium to prevent cell damage? Or perhaps dried down and pelleted? What would the longievity of each major group of microorganisms be? Would there be an opportunity for pathogenic species to take advantage of the change in environment?
I’m not one to let a few minor technical issues come between the Shit Bank and me, and I'm certainly not about to suggest that faecal transplants are a solution to gut health problems; faecal transplantation is not a panacea treatment for all gut ills, and the last thing I want to see is Botox parties being replaced by shit swap parties. However, if your gut is a real mess there could be worse things than kick-starting it with the mother of all probiotic infusions.
UPDATE 29/04/2014 - I'm encouraged to read recently that frozen faecal samples appear to be viable. There was also a report last year about Dr Thomas Louie (University of Calgary), who has had some success with transplants using faecal samples rendered into an oral capsule and coated in three layers of gelatin.