The Frozen Poop Pill

Image from the Center for Irritable Bowel Solution
Image from the Center for Irritable Bowel Solutions

By Hanae Armitage
BU News Service

First used in the 1950s, the fecal transplant has steadily gained street-cred since its introduction as a potential cure to the fierce bacterial infection caused by Clostridium difficile.

C. difficile is a gastrointestinal illness that causes around 14,000 deaths in the US every year.

A team at Massachusetts General Hospital recently published a study in JAMA highlighting a new method of storage for fecal transplants, essentially turning them into a frozen pill that can last for up to 250 days.

The basic idea of a fecal transplant is this: Healthy feces contain a mix of good bacteria that, when reintroduced back into the body, reequips the intestine to fight the C. difficile infection and allow the gut to function properly.

In the past, fecal transplant administration seemed like a fairly uncomfortable procedure — invasive at one of two ends. To get the necessary bacteria into the gut, patients could endure either a tube that went into their nose and down to their digestive tract, or an enema. Now, researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston have encapsulated the essential fecal material and tested this “poo pill” in a small study of 20 people.

The 20 patients ranged in age from 11 to 89 years old and each had suffered repeated cases of C. Difficile infection. Over the course of two days, each patient ingested 30 frozen capsules, 15 each day, and in 14 out of 20 patients, the infection was eliminated. In the remaining patients, the infection went away after a second round of 30 pills.

But the purpose of the pill wasn’t just to ease treatment protocol. It also allowed researchers to test ways to store the treatment for convenient use in the future. They found that freezing the pill to give to later patients was a viable option, making fecal transplants a simpler and safer medical tool.

Now, researchers are working towards a larger study with the frozen poo pills and hope to replicate the success they saw in the preliminary 20 patients.

An edible bacterial transplant is still unappetizing, but benefits seem to vastly outweigh the gross-factor. I just don’t, for the life of me, understand why they chose to store the fecal material in clear capsules. It looks exactly like how it sounds—like a frozen poo pill.

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Posted by: Hanae Armitage on