The growing use of fecal transplants needs to be carefully controlled, experts say.
The therapy is increasingly being used to treat people with life-threatening intestinal infections, such as those caused by the bacterium Clostridium difficile. The procedure involves transferring fecal matter from a healthy donor into the intestine of a patient so that healthy bacteria can re-colonize the bowel.
Researchers analyzed available evidence and found that fecal transplants were 85 percent successful in treating patients, compared with 20 percent for standard antibiotic treatment.
A recent clinical trial was halted early because fecal transplantation proved so effective, with a 90 percent success rate compared to 26 percent for powerful antibiotics, the researchers noted.
After more than 7,000 fecal transplants, few harmful effects have been reported and the transplants seem relatively safe for elderly patients and those with weakened immune systems, the researchers wrote in the Oct. 20 issue of BMJ.
The study was conducted by Dr. Tim Spector, a professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London, and Rob Knight, a professor of pediatrics and computer science and engineering at the University of California, San Diego.
More than 500 centers in the United States offer fecal transplants.
Along with treating C. difficule infections, fecal transplantation is being tested to treat other common conditions such as obesity, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome and colitis, the researchers said.
However, wider use of fecal transplantation needs to be handled carefully, Spector and Knight said.
“We urgently need more expertise and centers, proper screening of donors, and good long-term trials and monitoring procedures in order to provide sensible advice,” they wrote.
Otherwise, patients “may lose patience and take matters into their own hands [using DIY methods] with unpredictable consequences,” the two experts warned.
The Fecal Transplant Foundation has more about fecal transplanation.