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‘Stool Banks’ Can Help Fecal Transplants Treat Illnesses, Study Suggests

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Fecal transplantation is exactly what it sounds like — the process involves transferring stool from one individual into the gastrointestinal (GI) tract of another, to treat a health condition that the recipient has. The procedure works because it helps replenish gut bacteria that are lost to antibiotics or are otherwise compromised in the recipient.

There’s another way to make use of this in case there is any incompatibility between the donor and the recipient. In a process called autologous fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT), scientists take a person’s own stool from when they were healthier and younger. The stool is used at a later time to be transplanted back into their bodies and help restore the gut microbe balance. And according to a new study, these self-transferring fecal transplants can help us if we begin to invest in “stool banks” — an inventory of sorts to collect stool samples from everyone while they’re young and healthy as a matter of procedure.

Published on Thursday in the journal Trends in Molecular Medicine, the research underscores the understated benefits of fecal transportation in gut health. Gut microbes are essential for our healthy survival, but the environment and pace of modern life alter the delicate composition of these bacterial communities in our GI tracts almost irreversibly, the study notes.

Currently, fecal transplantation is used to treat C. difficile colitis — a complication arising out of antibiotic treatments that kill off “good” gut bacteria. Until recently, this was the only condition for which fecal transplantations were somewhat routine procedures. But having someone else donate their stool presented its own set of problems. It is already hard to find the right donors for organ transplantations. Moreover, fecal transplantation also requires alignment of cultural factors in addition to the biological ones for it to actually work. “Rewilding the human gut microbiome by transplanting the whole gut microbial community from donors in nonindustrial societies may result in a dramatic mismatch between our industrial environment/lifestyles and the ancestral microbiome,” the study authors write.

The idea of having people “bank” their own stools to protect their future selves is thus a novel one. “Autologous FMTs have the potential to treat autoimmune diseases like asthma, multiple sclerosis, inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, obesity, and even heart disease and aging,” said study co-author Scott T. Weiss from Harvard University.

Essentially, we would be investing our resources into a “microbial Noah’s ark” — not only to treat present ailments, but also to preserve a record of the constantly evolving story of our gut microbes as the environments we live in continues to change.

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