Synthetic excrement touted as solution to gastric woes

Typically acquired after a course of antibiotics,Clostridium difficile (C. difficile) infections are skyrocketing, and medicos from Queen’s University in Canada think fecal transplants using a synthetic mixture of intestinal bacteria could be the best treatment.

Presented last week, a study by Mayo Clinic researchers provides clear evidence that the number of people contracting the hard-to-control and treat bacterial infection is increasing. C. difficile is common in the environment and approximately 337,000 cases are reported each year, causing 14,000 deaths. It is a toxin-producing bacteria that can overpopulate the colon when antibiotics eradicate other, naturally protective gut flora.

Common symptoms of a mild infection include watery diarrhea two or more times a day for two or more days, and mild abdominal cramping and tenderness. In severe cases, it can lead to inflammation of the colon, resulting in fever, blood or pus in the stool, nausea, dehydration, loss of appetite, and significant weight loss.

“It has been believed that the typical profile of a person with C. difficile is an older patient, taking antibiotics, while in the hospital. For the first time, we have described a significantly increased incidence of C. difficile [more than 12 times higher between 2004 and 2009]… Importantly, we also found that more than three-quarters of cases of C. difficile in children are being contracted in the community, not in the hospital,” said Sahil Khanna, from the Mayo Clinic Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology and lead author of the study.

One of the frontline treatments for C. difficile infection has been the fecal transplant, where stool material from a healthy subject is transferred into the infected patient’s colon. But researchers from Queen’s University think a synthetic mixture of intestinal bacteria may be a better solution.

“A synthetic stool transplant has a lot of potential because we can control what goes in and we can alter, change, or modify it as necessary,” says Elaine Petrof, an assistant professor in the Department of Medicine at Queen’s University.

Petrof believes that a stool compound made from synthetic or “purified” bacteria could significantly improve on regular stool transplants. It could eliminate the chance of transmitting an infectious disease through fecal bacteria; physicians could tailor the mixture so as to increase patient acceptance; it would be easily reproducible; and, it may appeal to both doctors and patients as a “cleaner” therapy with less “ew” factor.

Petrof and Dr. Allen Vercoe, a University of Guelph anaerobic microbiologist specializing in intestinal bacteria, are working closely to develop the artificial poo therapy. The goal behind their project is to offer a single-dose remedy, putting an end to revolving-door hospital visits for patients with recurring symptoms.

In the meantime, Mayo Clinic researchers recommend practicing prevention, including:

  • Washing hands with soap and water.
  • Cleaning suspected contaminated surfaces with bleach-based solutions.
  • Avoiding contact with people who are known to be infected.
  • Taking extra hygiene precautions if you are living with a person who has a C. difficileinfection or who works in a health care setting where a person might be exposed to patients with C. difficile infections.

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Source: Mayo Clinic, Queen’s University

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