The blogosphere has been buzzing lately about the idea of “fecal transplants,” probably because this treatment (first studied in the 80’s) was recently mentioned on Grey’s Anatomy. Proponents of the therapy (which involves the introduction of donor stool into a patient via enema or naso-gastric tube) say that it can rejuvenate intestinal flora and cure c. diff colitis, and various inflammatory bowel disorders. I had my doubts about these claims and decided to interview gastroenterologist Dr. Brian Fennerty to get to the bottom (sorry abou the bad pun) of this issue.
Dr. Fennerty is a Professor of Medicine in the Division of Gastroenterology at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, Oregon, where he also serves as Section Chief of Gastroenterology.
Listen to the podcast here:
Dr. Val: What exactly is a “fecal transplant?”
Dr. Fennerty: First, by way of background, you need to understand that the GI tract is populated with thousands of varieties of “good” bacteria that are essential for our health. If we didn’t have bacteria in our colon and small intestine, we would die. Fecal transplantation is the repopulation of a person’s gut bacteria (flora) with fecal matter from somebody else. Some argue that this helps to treat certain diseases.
Dr. Val: How is this procedure performed?
Dr. Fennerty: As it was originally described, fecal transplantation involved removing the undigested food particles from the stool sample of a “healthy” person, and then spinning it so that a pellet (of hundreds of thousands of species and quasi-species of bacteria) remains. The pellet is then introduced to the patient through a nasogastric tube into the small intestine, or the pellet can be resuspended in liquid and introduced into the rectum via an enema. The idea is that the bacteria will colonize the patient’s colon and squeeze out the bad bacteria that are in there.
Dr. Val: What are fecal transplants purported to do?