JAN 17, 2019 10:10 AM PST

Ulcerative Colitis Relieved by Fecal Microbiota Transplant

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

We carry around vast numbers of bacteria in our gastrointestinal tract, and that community of microbes, the gut microbiome, can be very important to our health. Imbalances in the gut microbiome can also cause problems. One way to fix it is fecal transplantation, in which fecal material is transferred from a healthy donor to a person with gut microbiome dysfunction. The 'healthy' fecal material carries microbes that can restore the health of the problematic microbiome. Researchers at the University of Adelaide have now demonstrated that this process can successfully treat patients suffering from ulcerative colitis. The findings have been reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

Ulcerative colitis is a disease in which the lining of the rectum and large intestine becomes inflamed. That inflammation causes pain, blood in the stool, and an increase in the risk of colon cancer.

In this study, scientists from the University of Adelaide, South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI), CSIRO and CALHN (SA Health) enrolled 73 patients with mild to moderate cases of ulcerative colitis. Those patients received either their own stool in a placebo transplant or donor fecal material that had been processed in an environment free of oxygen (anaerobically) for transplant.

"The most important difference in this trial compared to previous studies is the use of anaerobic (oxygen-free) stool processing," explained the study leader Dr. Sam Costello, a gastroenterologist at the University of Adelaide's Medical School. "Many gut bacteria die with exposure to oxygen, and we know that with anaerobic stool processing a large number of donor bacteria survive so that they can be administered to the patient. We believe that this may be the reason that we had a good therapeutic effect with only a small number of treatments."

The team found that this low-intensity fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT) with the anaerobically-processed donor microbes relieved ulcerative colitis. There was a 32 percent remission rate compared with only nine percent in the placebo. Those results are similar to what’s seen with current colitis treatments — however, those therapeutics work by suppressing the immune system, which can cause many dangerous side effects. 

The researchers are already working to bring this new treatment, which is considered to be much safer, to patients. The UK company Microbiotica is involved in commercializing the therapy.

"Our long-term aim is to develop rationally designed microbial therapies that can replace FMT,'' said Costello. "These will have bacteria in a pill that can carry out the therapeutic effect without the need to take whole feces; this is obviously a better and less smelly option."

The researchers are planning to follow up on this work to see if the FMT keeps patients free of colitis over the long-term.

Image credit: Max Pixel


Sources: AAAS/Eurekalert! Via University of Adelaide, JAMA

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on 28 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 60 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
MAY 11, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
3D Cell Culture Model Suggests Herpes Can Cause Alzheimer's
MAY 11, 2020
3D Cell Culture Model Suggests Herpes Can Cause Alzheimer's
Alzheimer's is a common form of dementia that affects as many as 5.5 million Americans and the incidence is increasing a ...
JUN 08, 2020
Microbiology
Concerns Remain About the Accuracy of COVID-19 Tests
JUN 08, 2020
Concerns Remain About the Accuracy of COVID-19 Tests
Diagnostic tests have recently been getting a lot of attention because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
JUN 22, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
Viruses Can Create New Genes By Stealing Bits of Human DNA
JUN 22, 2020
Viruses Can Create New Genes By Stealing Bits of Human DNA
When viruses infect cells, they hijack the machinery inside and start to use it for their own purposes. This enables vir ...
JUL 11, 2020
Microbiology
A Good Germ Can Protect Us From a Nasty One
JUL 11, 2020
A Good Germ Can Protect Us From a Nasty One
E. coli is a microbe that is commonly found in the intestinal tract, where it can exist harmlessly. However, if it gets ...
JUL 23, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
A Human Protein Can Mutate SARS-CoV-2, But It Can Change Back
JUL 23, 2020
A Human Protein Can Mutate SARS-CoV-2, But It Can Change Back
One way the human body can try to fight the coronavirus is by mutating it; these mutations seem to disrupt it. But the v ...
JUL 28, 2020
Microbiology
After 100 Million Years Under the Seafloor, Ancient Microbes Come Alive
JUL 28, 2020
After 100 Million Years Under the Seafloor, Ancient Microbes Come Alive
It has been said that we know more about the moon than we do about the bottom of the ocean, though explorers and researc ...
Loading Comments...