Faecal Transplants Offer Hope For Bowel Disease Patients
It's enough to turn anyone's stomach but a new treatment that transplants faecal matter from one person to another could help to save lives.
The procedure, which is already being used by some doctors, repopulates the patient's gut with the healthy bacteria that can become unbalanced after the use of antibiotics.
Dr Alisdair MacConnachie, from Gartnavel General Hospital in Glasgow, carries out the procedure in the UK for Clostridium difficile infection, a disease that can be caused when healthy bacteria are wiped out from the gut by antibiotics.
The theory is that by adding more bacteria to the bowels, they will compete with the Clostridium difficile bacteria and control the infection.
He says it is a proven treatment but should only be used as a last resort.
"My personal view is that this technique is there for patients who have tried all the traditional treatments," Dr MacConnachie told the BBC.
"If a patient doesn't respond to that and still gets recurrent C. difficile then they're in real trouble and there isn't really any other technique or any other treatment that has the proven efficacy that faecal transplant does."
Dr MacChonnachie has performed the procedure over 20 times and says it was successful in removing the bacteria in all bar one of the cases.
He told the BBC that other doctors may be more hesitant to embrace the treatment because of its repellant nature:
"It sounds disgusting, it is disgusting and I think people are probably worried about approaching patients and discussing it."
For optimum results the donor of the faecal matter would be a relative who lives with the patient; living in the same environment and eating the same food means they are more likely to have similar bowel bacteria.
The donor comes to the hospital on the morning of the operation and produces a sample. About 30g of this is blitzed in a household blender with salt water and poured through a coffee filter to leave a watery liquid.
To transfer the liquid into the patient’s bowels, Dr MacConnachie inserts a tube up the nose and down to the stomach and pours the liquid through the tube.
The treatment is growing in popularity in the States where doctors believe it could be used to treat common complaints such as irritable bowel syndrome, diarrhoea and constipation.
However, until the necessary clinical trials take place, it is unlikely the treatment will become widespread in the UK.