Here’s the straight poop on fecal transplants, a new medical procedure which scientists suspect could help us live longer, healthier lives. Physician’s use fecal transplants to treat infections. [Cover Photo: Frozen fecal transplant tablets. Courtesy of Hohmann Lab.]
The human microbiome is an invisible world that is only recently coming into focus. The collection of bacteria that inhabit your body is a delicate ecosystem that can crash as you age, travel, or even take a new medication. When it collapses, it can lead to all sorts of distress.
The Business End Of The Poop Industry
Seres Therapeutics is one of the more promising names in poop. The Cambridge biotech company has been trying to transform medicine by harnessing the billions of bacteria in our intestines.
Seres is one of the first companies designing treatments that manipulate the microbiome to repair bad guts and cure diseases. The startup’s first drug candidate is a set of microbes distilled from human feces and condensed into a pill.
One wonders why Seres’ CEO, Roger Pomerantz, MD happened to get into the business of poop. After all, it isn’t a line of work one can brag about at cocktail parties. Nor is it the type of profession in which an employee can bring their work home with them.
Despite its downsides, the business has its rewards. When Seres Therapeutics went public in 2015, the company was valued at over $133 million.
Good Poop, Bad Poop
Transferring poop from one person to another, called fecal transplant, is mainly used to treat a nasty gut infection called Clostridium difficile. The bacterial infection can strike people, after a course of antibiotics has wiped out their existing bacterial residents. A fecal transplant works by introducing good bacteria in large enough numbers so they can gobble up Clostridium difficile’s food supply, starving the infection out.
In other words, in a fecal transplant, the good poop drives out the bad.
Unexpected Effects of Fecal Transplants
Dr. Colleen Kelly started using fecal transplants in 2008, to treat patients suffering from C. difficile. According to an interview in Wired Magazine, the Doctor observed some strange side effects that accompany fecal transplants. For example, after receiving a fecal transplant, one of her patients started growing hair. The patient hadn’t been able to produce any hair since he was 16. But when he got a fecal transplant, he started sprouting fresh patches. As Wired reported:
“When Kelly told a colleague about the result, she got a second shock: He had seen a fecal transplant recipient regrow hair too.”
Fecal transplants, it seems, don’t just regrow hair. The physicians observed a host of other benefits as well. The doctors noticed that in some patients, the fecal transplants caused weight loss and cured depression.
Poop, it seems, also makes you happy.
Wired also reported:
“It’s becoming more and more clear that the microbiome has therapeutic potential beyond the gut. Some patients undergo significant weight changes after a transplant; others say their depression goes away. Yet doctors still can’t figure out how it works.”
Fecal Transplant Uses
The fecal transplant procedure has also had promising results with many other digestive or autoimmune diseases in patients, including Ulcerative Colitis, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and Crohn’s Disease. The procedure has also been used around the world to treat other conditions, although more research in other areas is needed.
Old Poop, Young Poop
Remember the parabiosis experiments in which the young blood of teens rejuvenated old mice?
Well, young poop may just as be rejuvenating. In a study published this year, researchers increased the lifespan of lab animals, by changing their microbiome.
While fecal transplants have shown promise in animal experiments and targeted human therapies, the word is still out on using fecal transplants to treat aging.
The microbiome has become a hot topic lately, and even the tech giant IBM is getting into the act. A related article tells you about IBM’s plans to study the human microbiome. The stalwart tech firm is investigating the human microbiome’s role in autoimmune disorders.
The life sciences arena has become a hot topic among silicon valley high tech firms. Google, in particular, has been investing heavily in the life sciences arena. In April, Google’s life sciences arm Verily launched a project aiming to collect microbiome and genetic data from 10,000 people. And in 2013, Google created the $1.5 Billion dollar startup Calico Labs, which focuses on curing the diseases of aging.
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Diagnosis, Advice, and Treatment: This article is intended for informational and educational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice. The information provided in this report should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. Consult a licensed physician for the diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911, or the equivalent emergency hotline number, for all medical emergencies. As well, consult a licensed physician before changing your diet, supplement or exercise programs. Photos, External Links & Endorsements: This article is not intended to endorse companies, organizations or products. Links to external websites, depiction/mention of company names or brands, are intended only for illustration and do not constitute endorsements.