A Promising Pill, Not So Hard to Swallow
This pill goes down easier if you forget what is in it.
Inside the experimental capsule is human feces — strained, centrifuged and frozen. Taken for just two days, the preparation can cure a dangerous bacterial infection that has defied antibiotics and kills 14,000 Americans each year, researchers said Saturday.
If the results are replicated in larger trials, the pill, developed at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, promises an easier, cheaper and most likely safer alternative to an unpleasant procedure highlighted in both medical journals and on YouTube: fecal transplants.
Studies show that transplanting feces in liquid form from healthy people to patients with stubborn Clostridium difficile infections can stop the wrenching intestinal symptoms, apparently by restoring healthy gut bacteria.
But fecal transplants are not easy. The procedure requires delivery of a fecal solution via the rectum or a tube inserted through the nose. As with colonoscopies, patients must flush their bowels first.
“Capsules are going to replace the way we’ve been doing this,” said Dr. Colleen Kelly, a gastroenterologist with the Women’s Medicine Collaborative in Providence, R.I., who was not involved in the study. Dr. Kelly performs five or six fecal transplants a month, but demand is so great she is booked through January.
“It’s so labor-intensive,” she said. “You have to find a donor, have to screen a donor. If you can just open a freezer and take out a poop pill, that’s wonderful.”
While the pills are not being marketed yet, the authors of the study, published in JAMA, are already making them available to qualified patients without requiring participation in clinical trials.
Their study was small and preliminary, but results were striking: 19 of 20 patients with C. difficile infections were cured of diarrhea and related symptoms. Most saw improvements after one two-day round of pills, the rest after two or three rounds, said Dr. Ilan Youngster, the lead investigator.