A few months back, we wrote about OpenBiome, a company that provides therapeutic fecal matter. In case you missed that post, here's the general idea: For people with a devastating (and sometimes fatal) infection called C. difficile, a fecal matter transplant (FMT) can be a real life-saver. By putting healthy fecal matter into the patient (by way of oral tablets or colonoscopy), doctors can effectively seed their guts with the healthy bacteria they need to fight off the infection. For people who've failed to thrive on traditional treatments like antibiotics, the transplant -- while gross -- seems miraculous.
Now CNN has followed one of these noble poop donors through his daily routine.
Like all of OpenBiome's donors, Eric (shown in the video linked above) had to pass an extensive screening process. OpenBiome's founders have been known to joke that they're more selective about their donors than MIT is with its applicants (which is actually true!).
“I had no idea,” Eric told CNN of his poop. “It turns out that it’s fairly close to perfect.”
But getting a clean bill of health isn't enough: Eric's donations, which earn him $40 a sample, need to follow . . . certain guidelines. Consistency guidelines. From CNN:
Types one or two, defined by the Bristol Stool Chart as “like nuts” or “lumpy,” are too dry to process into a treatment.If a donor’s stool is “mushy” or “watery” — that’s a type six or seven — then it can’t be used because it could be a sign the donor has a gastrointestinal infection.The perfect poop is type three, which is “like a sausage but with cracks on its surface;” type four, which is “like a sausage or snake, smooth and soft;” or type five, “soft blobs with clear-cut edges (passed easily).”
And a change in diet can make even Eric's "fairly close to perfect" poop borderline.
Eric's stool -- more than 10 pounds of it, so far, enough for 133 treatments -- is mixed with saline, filtered to remove any fiber, and tucked into a freezer. After it passes a secondary screening to make sure it's really top-notch, it will be used to treat C. difficile patients. This intensive screening is important in ensuring that vulnerable patients don't receive bacteria that could make them even sicker -- and that's why doctors urge against attempting the procedure at home.
These transplants are a hot new scientific marvel, and lots of researchers are hoping to prove that the same therapy could cure everything from irritable bowel syndrome to obesity. But for now, C. difficile infections are the only ailments shown to respond to the procedure.