Fecal transplants are used to cure patients with stubborn C. difficile infections by repopulating their colons with normal flora. (If you want a refresher, check out Lab Medicine’s podcast on fecal transplants.) Ideally, family members of such patients donate the necessary stool, but that’s not always possible. Perhaps the family member has bowel issues themselves, or maybe they have an infectious disease that can be transmitted through stool. So what’s a patient to do? Thanks to companies like OpenBiome, they can use banked stool for their procedure.
The New York Times published an article about OpenBiome. The article touches on the FDA stance on this procedure and mentions that if this procedure is restricted, there is a risk of a black market. Fecal transplants are effective, after all, and the source material is free and easy to obtain. However, like anything done in the metaphorical back alley, there could be serious consequences (disease transmission comes to mind).
Fecal transplants aren’t going away, so if you work in micro they need to be on your radar. Perhaps making a fecal bank of sorts for your patients is an avenue worth exploring.
–Kelly Swails, MT(ASCP), is a laboratory professional, recovering microbiologist, and web editor for Lab Medicine.