In a recent headline, the German news website SPIEGEL ONLINE called it “the gross cure”, and transferring gut bacteria does indeed not sound too appetising. Yet there is increasing scientific proof that faecal transplants – or transfers – offer a highly effective and simple way of treating gut diseases. After a first controlled transfer of gut bacteria from a healthy subject to an afflicted patient in 2013, research in this area was stepped up and accompanied by reports in the media.
At a recent Organobalance symposium in Berlin, Dr. Maria Vehreschild of the University Hospital Cologne reported on the current state of research. It is already possible to freeze-dry gut bacteria and administer them in capsules. “They contain billions of beneficial gut bacteria intended to restore the receiver’s health”, the SPIEGEL writes.
The magazine refers to a clinical trial in Amsterdam in which doctors treated patients infected with Clostridium difficile, a bacterium that causes severe diarrhoea. One group was treated conventionally using antibiotics, the other received faecal transplants from healthy donors. According to the magazine, the antibiotic cured just 4 out of 13 patients, whereas the faecal infusions did the same for 15 out of 16 patients.
But we have to remind ourselves that even faecal transplants involve potential risks. Scientists are working very hard on finding a way to systematically use healthy bacteria to achieve the best possible outcomes. Microbiome research in recent years, however, has already uncovered promising solutions which may bring considerable relief to patients and medical practitioners alike.