Transplanting Bacteria

Dr. Alexander Khoruts had run out of options.

In 2008, Dr. Khoruts, a gastroenterologist at the University of Minnesota, took on a patient suffering from a vicious gut infection of Clostridium difficile. She was crippled by constant diarrhea, which had left her in a wheelchair wearing diapers. Dr. Khoruts treated her with an assortment of antibiotics, but nothing could stop the bacteria. His patient was wasting away, losing 60 pounds over the course of eight months. “She was just dwindling down the drain, and she probably would have died,” Dr. Khoruts said.

Dr. Khoruts decided his patient needed a transplant. But he didn’t give her a piece of someone else’s intestines, or a stomach, or any other organ. Instead, he gave her some of her husband’s bacteria.
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Dr. Khoruts mixed a small sample of her husband’s stool with saline solution and delivered it into her colon. Writing in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology last month, Dr. Khoruts and his colleagues reported that her diarrhea vanished in a day. Her Clostridium difficile infection disappeared as well and has not returned since.

The procedure — known as bacteriotherapy or fecal transplantation — had been carried out a few times over the past few decades. But Dr. Khoruts and his colleagues were able to do something previous doctors could not: they took a genetic survey of the bacteria in her intestines before and after the transplant.

Before the transplant, they found, her gut flora was in a desperate state. “The normal bacteria just didn’t exist in her,” said Dr. Khoruts. “She was colonized by all sorts of misfits.”

Two weeks after the transplant, the scientists analyzed the microbes again. Her husband’s microbes had taken over. “That community was able to function and cure her disease in a matter of days,” said Janet Jansson, a microbial ecologist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a co-author of the paper. “I didn’t expect it to work. The project blew me away.”

New York Times: Science
Amazing, absolutely amazing.

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2 thoughts on “Transplanting Bacteria

  1. I think the importance of symbiontic bacterian in our intestines is completely underrated. A relative of mine took antibiotics for a few weeks each year for about three years, which fucked so much with her natural flora that even five years after the treatment she still can`t digest fructose, which is in really everything, especially vegetables and fruits, because the human body needs the help of micobes to do so. The natural recolonization of intestines with “good” bacteria is really rare once they are gone, there are certain treatments with pills containing the right cocktail of bacteria, but that does only work very seldom too. The idea with the stool transplant is really good, I think, but as far as I know it really rarely works, because it is hard for the “good” bacteria to push the pathogenic organisms aside, as pathogenic lifeforms are generally very very competitive and strong. But great idea.
    Has anyone of you heard of “phage therapy”? It`s when you use viruses to cure bacterial infections and was the thing before the discovery of antibiotics.

    1. I was interested in the article because I was recently hospitalized w/ a serious case of diverticulitis that went septic, and an already compromised immune system. Needless to say the IV antibiotics were potent and I’m still recovering, needless to say, phages would work well for someone like me.
      I learned about the phage idea a few years ago, using viruses to change the DNA in bacteria and replicate by the millions.

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