You’ve heard of blood banks, but did you know that there is now a national non-profit banking system for human feces?  “Why?”, you might ask.  Well, it turns out that fecal transplants (either by nasoduodenal tube or by bowel lavage) are quite effective at treating recurrent infections of a particularly dangerous type of gastrointestinal infection.

The gastrointestinal infection in question is caused by a bacterium called Clostridium difficile.  Under normal conditions, C. difficile is just one of thousands of types of normal bacteria that inhabit the gut.  When most of the gut bacteria are wiped out, for example by the use of antibiotics, C. difficile may take over, producing a toxin that causes recurrent diarrhea.   Infections by C. difficile kill more than 12,000 Americans a year, according to the CDC.   C. difficile infections are not very responsive to antibiotics, making them difficult to treat.

Last year, research showed that fecal transplants were much more effective at treating infections of C. difficile than the best antibiotic treatment available.  Apparently, by reintroducing a wide variety of normal bacteria back into the gut, fecal transplants prevent C. difficile from gaining a sufficient advantage to make the patient sick.

Until now, though, there was not been a source of standardized preparations of human feces.  Patients had to rely on fecal donations from relative or friends, which some patients consider a little embarrassing.   In addition, health professionals were on their own in terms of preparing and administering donated feces.

A national human feces bank seems like an idea that could work, despite the “yuck” factor.  We’ll see how (or whether) it gains widespread support from patients and health professionals.

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