SANTA FE, N.M. — If all disease begins in the gut, as Hippocrates declared more than 2,000 years ago, then surely the cures for those diseases must be tied to the gut, as well. That’s the basic idea behind research at Los Alamos National Laboratory that aims to make fecal transplants a thing of the past.
The gut – a.k.a. the gastrointestinal tract that starts at the mouth and ends at the anus – contains trillions of bacterial cells. A majority are good bacteria that reside in the nearly 30 feet of the large and small intestines. These good bacteria are responsible for a person’s overall health.
But sometimes a harmful bacterium called Clostridium difficile (C. diff) infects the gut, with symptoms that range from diarrhea to inflammation of the colon. Doctors typically treat the infection with antibiotics, but spores from C. diff often linger in the gut and re-infect the patient.
If the infection occurs more than twice, doctors often recommend a fecal transplant: They transplant poop from a person with a healthy gut into the gut of the infected patient. Sounds crazy, but the idea is that the healthy bacteria in the transplanted poop will fight off the C. diff infection. The process works about 95 percent of the time.