Science Interviews


Mon, 2nd Feb 2015

Trans-poo-sion: the faecal transplant

Professor Brendan Wren, London School of Hygeine and Tropical Medicine

Listen Now    Download as mp3 from the show Outnumbered: Are your bacteria controlling you?

Clostridium difficile is a nasty bacterium which causes over 10,000 infections per The Screamyear in the UK alone. It leads to severe long-term diarrhoea and inflammation in the intestine and is a particular problem for the elderly and patients receiving antibiotics that wipe out their resident population of ďgood bacteriaĒ. What can be done about these infections? Recently, the idea of a faecal transplant, or ďtranspoosionĒ has been gaining traction. Microbiologist Brendan Wren, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine explained the science behind the (rather unpleasant sounding) idea to Kat Arney...

Brendan - Well, itís quite an old idea from about 25 years ago. As you mentioned, Clostridium difficile is an organism that takes over the gut, when you take antibiotics and can cause severe disease and can be life-threatening. One of the problems is you get relapses over and over again. In desperate cases, because itís quite dramatic and desperate thing to do to try and re-establish the balance of your microbiota, is to have a faecal transplant. So essentially, to try to replace the bacteria that you've lost and re-establish the balance. Anecdotally, this has worked for quite a few years and more and more of these have been done worldwide and itís gaining traction as you mentioned.

Kat - Is this actually poo? I mean, letís do some details here. Sorry, if anyoneís eating dinner. Is this poo? Which end does it go in and how does it work?

Brendan - Itís poo so people may be able have their own or maybe their partners and more and more commonly now is the idea of poo banks around. So, within your own poo, you obviously have your own microbes and you need actually to start establish the balance. So yeah, itís literally that and itís in case in motion and itís given orally so it allows you to re-establish your gut microbiota.

Kat - This is kind of like a poo in a pill or sort of a poo shake?

Brendan - I guess more of a poo in a pill. I guess the issues with it are, you don't know what microbes you're putting in and potentially, it could be pointing some bad ones. Some countries, they do refuse to do it, but however, some patients are really desperate and Clostridium difficile can kill people. And back in 2004, 8,000 people in UK died. So, if you have a persistent problem with it, itís a desperate measure, but itís increasingly been used.

Kat - And you say itís increasingly being used, but what's the evidence that it actually works? Have there been clinical trials done of this yet?

Brendan - Some clinical trials have been done recently, but because itís such a desperate measure, itís hard to get higher enough numbers. So, it is more anecdotal. What weíre interested in our research is we have a mouse model of Clostridium difficile and reinfection and weíve been able to, in this day and age, as one of the speakers mentioned earlier, we can sequence quite easily so we can work out the content of the poo, and in terms of bacteria, that way, what we want to do is to get a magic cocktail if you like of bacteria that we know don't cause disease. With this cocktail, weíd be able to re-establish mark flow in a more defined approach rather than a poo pill.

Kat - Yeah, because it does sound kind of gross. I mean, we hear all the time about the adverts, the probiotics to help our healthy bacteria. Are people quite reluctant about the idea of either a poo transplant or a bacterial transplant in this kind of slightly more cleaned up way?

Brendan - What is a certain yuck factor about a poo  pill but people are desperate. If itís going to save their lives, they'll do it. that's why more and more of these have been done because Clostridium difficile has tripled over the last few years in our hospitals, particularly for persistent infections then itís one possibility.

Kat - Just very briefly to wrap up, we sometimes hear about the idea that maybe you could transfer poo from different people, share your microbiome and that might change other characteristics. For example, your weight or something like that. Is there any evidence on that very briefly?

Brendan - There's not really evidence yet on that. As your previous speakers mentioned, your microbiome being associated with everything to do with diet and health cancer, etc. But weíre only at the early stages and I think with the new technology and being able to sequence the work of the actual bacteria there then we have more rational approach but I'm microbiome.

Kat - So, my cunning plan to find a thin person and extract some of their poo and then eat it is not going to work for me right now.

Brendan - I wouldn't recommend it.

Kat - It does sound fantastic. Are there hopes for larger trials for this in the future?

Brendan - Yeah, for certainly in the future and particularly in the US and lots of companies are setting up in this particular area. Poo banks will be around I'm sure. You'll have not just your genome sequenced but the genomes of your gut bacteria. So, itís going to take off I'm sure.


Subscribe Free

Related Content


Make a comment

Part of the repulsion to feces is protection from a broad group of fecal-oral transmitted diseases covering a wide variety of diseases from Cholera to Worms.

If one could eliminate or screen for those diseases, then the bacteria or flora in the feces should be reasonably safe. 

I would, however, anticipate a movement towards lab cultured bacteria rather than raw feces. 

Perhaps one could give a person traveler's diarrhea BEFORE heading off on a trip  CliffordK, Wed, 4th Feb 2015

Its the very thought of it which is repulsive.

I well remember, as a young lad (yes I was once) half a dozen of us went on a European tour in an old Ford Transit mini bus. In a French village in the Loire region, we piled into a restaurant. Two of us had the regional specialty, two had something else and two had the local speciality, Offal Sausage.

I think it was a miss-spelling, not Offal Sausage, but Awful Sausage. Being something of a Gannet, I'm always willing to give anything a try, but certainly NOT that sausage. When cut open, there was only one way to describe the odour that emanated  from it. I'll ask you to pardon my French (pun intended): Dog sh1t.

Now this may be the human version rather than the canine version, but I still think the idea a tad on the unsavoury side, to put it mildly. Don_1, Wed, 4th Feb 2015

Have you tasted some Durian Fruit?  They actually don't taste too bad, but do have a quite a pungent odor. 

I had thought some of the fecal transplants were being done with an enema or Rectal Suppositories. 

However, many "pills" that a person takes orally have bad flavors, and either are swallowed quickly, or have a sugar coating. CliffordK, Wed, 4th Feb 2015

It was reported that Hitler's doctors tried faecal transplants to cure his well document digestive problems, I don't know what they told him but they were very brave ! syhprum, Wed, 4th Feb 2015

See the whole discussion | Make a comment

Not working please enable javascript
Powered by UKfast
Genetics Society