* In the news *
Fecal microbiota transplants (FMTs) are exactly what they sound like. They involve taking feces from a healthy person and putting them into the body of a sick patient to strengthen the community of bacteria that live in the patient’s gut.
FMTs are very effective at curing stubborn infections with Clostridium difficile (C. diff). The deadly bacteria cause 500,000 illnesses and 14,000 deaths each year in the United States. Small studies have shown that FMTs can cure about 90 percent of serious C. diff infections. They have been so successful that scientists are testing the transplants for other conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome.
However, FMTs have their downsides. They’re invasive, they can spread disease, and — let’s face it — they’re gross.
What if patients could get the benefits of an FMT without the “ick factor”? A team led by researchers at the Mayo Clinic has developed a delayed-release pill, dubbed SER-109. Research suggests that it may be just as effective as a traditional transplant.
How Does the Pill Work?
In a trial of 15 patients with multiple flare-ups of C. diff infection, SER-109 cured all 15 within eight weeks. At the end of the trial, none of the patients had diarrhea, the hallmark of C. diff infection. All tested negative for the bacteria.
“The results of the study were not surprising and we were expecting a high cure rate,” lead study author Dr. Sahil Khanna of the Mayo Clinic told Healthline. “Previous studies involving conventional fecal transplant from the upper gut have demonstrated good success rates.”
Doctors think that giving patients large doses of antibiotics triggers C. diff infections. Antibiotics destroy the normal, helpful gut bacteria that help the body fight harmful microbes like C. diff. To cure the infection, doctors must reintroduce the good bacteria the patient has lost.
The pill required far fewer live bacteria than a traditional transplant. Even with fewer bacteria to re-seed the patients’ guts, the researchers confirmed that the pill quickly restored bacterial diversity.
Khanna, a gastroenterologist, said that the delayed-release capsules allowed the bacteria to survive the acidity and enzymes in the upper gastrointestinal tract and make it into the patient’s lower gut.
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