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Swallowing These Expensive Poop-Pills Could Help Save Thousands From a Life-Threatening Disease

A new oral method for fecal transplantation is turning heads—and maybe a few stomachs, too.

image via (cc) flickr user silvergelatin

Usually when someone tells you to “eat shit,” they don’t have your best interests in mind. Not so, however, if that someone works at OpenBiome, referred to by The New York Times as “ the nation’s first human stool bank.” There, researchers and doctors work to fight Clostridium difficile—a dangerous, and sometimes deadly, bacterial infection—by “expanding safe access to fecal microbiota transplants.

In other words, they’re in the business of putting poop inside people.

You see, Clostridium difficile, or C. Diff, which affects hundreds of thousands of Americans annually, can be effectively treated by transplanting healthy fecal matter into an infected person. Doing so essentially overwhelms the infection with the “right” digestive bacteria, thereby reestablishing intestinal balance. To date, transplantation has typically been done by way of inserting donated poop up through the colon, or down a nasal tube directly into the stomach. Now, however, OpenBiome has developed pills which are able to introduce healthy fecal bacteria without necessitating a colonoscopy or nasal tubing.

At a cost of $635, OpenBiome’s pill-based treatment simplifies the otherwise complex fecal transplant process while maintaining a high rate of success; a single round of 30 pills was shown to cure 70 percent of patients suffering from a C. Diff infection, with a second round bumping that number up to 94 percent, reports The Times. That isn’t to say it’s a foolproof system. The Times explains that there are still risks involved with swallowing poop pills, such as the potential fatal effect should the capsuel’s contents accidentally be introduced into a patient’s lungs.

All this, however, may someday be irrelevant, as scientists work toward removing feces from the equation entirely, relying on lab-cultured microorganisms instead of donated stool samples. For now, however, patients suffering from C. Diff can take solace in the fact that, while their options may still be predicated on poop, treatment, at least, has become a much easier pill to swallow.

[via ars technica]

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