New York: A new pill made of bacteria extracted from human poop can help treat those suffering from difficult-to-cure intestinal infections, scientists say.
A new Canadian study included 32 patients with recurrent Clostridium difficile, a bacterial infection that causes severe diarrhea and can be life-threatening.
The infection can occur after people take antibiotics, which often wipe out "good" bacteria and leave the door open for harmful bacteria like C difficile to flourish in the gut.
Some patients in the study, were trapped in a cycle of antibiotic treatment and recurrent C difficile infection, said study researcher Dr Thomas Louie, professor of medicine at the University of Calgary in Alberta.
Study participants had suffered at least four bouts of C difficile prior to the study. But after taking the pills - which repopulate the gut with "good" bacteria - nearly all participants were free of C difficile infection, and have not had another infection since then, in the three months to three years that they have been followed, 'LiveScience' reported.
Just one participant appears to have had a recurrence, and this was after taking antibiotics for a separate infection, Louie said.
Poop transplants, formally known as fecal microbiota transplantation, have been previously shown to be an effective way to treat C difficile infections.
However, fecal bacteria were typically delivered through an enema, or a tube placed either in the colon, or into the nose and leading down to the gastrointestinal tract.
"Pills are a great option because they're easier for patients to take, [and] don't involve costly, invasive procedures," Louie said.
Also, some patients fail to respond to enemas (because of incontinence), and cannot tolerate nose tubes for medical reasons, he said.
The researchers made the pills by processing donor fecal matter until it contained only bacteria. Then, they put the bacteria into three-layer capsules that do not disintegrate until they are passed the stomach and into the small intestine, Louie said.
Participants took 24 to 34 capsules over a five- to 15-minute period, and the pills were well-tolerated (no one vomited after swallowing the pills).
In the future, if researchers can discover which bacteria are mainly responsible for "curing" patients of C difficile, those bacteria could be grown in a lab and manufactured into pills, Louie said.