Before writing this article, I confess I went to the Web and Googled “fecal transplant joke” but, alas, all I could find were sentences like, “Fecal transplants are no joke.” No, they are not, but could we not expect at least a modicum of childish humor?
An article, The promise of poop, in Friday’s Science magazine discusses the medical possibilities of fecal transplants. As far as I know, these were first considered as a last-ditch treatment for Clostridium difficile infections, which are very severe intestinal infections and come about when antibiotics kill the great majority of the other floras in the large intestine. A hospitalist in a long-term care facility told me a couple of years ago that he thought fecal transplants would become the treatment of choice for “C-diff.”
Sure enough, fecal transplantation - the inoculation of someone else’s, um, manure into the patient’s intestine - has now become a hot topic and so successful in treating C-diff that even I would not hold out for a series of double-blind tests. The technique shows promise for treating Crohn’s disease and possibly other autoimmune diseases. See Carl Zimmer’s article in the Times for an indication of how we must have coevolved with thousands and thousands of species of microbes.
Fecal transplants are a little icky and conceivably could be dangerous. Nevertheless, I was pleased to note that the FDA retreated from its intention to treat fecal transplants as unapproved drugs and therefore regulate them.
Watch out, though - I read somewhere (but cannot recover the reference) that different people may have markedly different floras, and after a fecal transplant you may find that your exhaust gases smell different.
Note added Sept 1. There is no truth to the rumor that I painted this sign: