Fecal Transplants Could Be a Viable Treatment for Childhood Diarrhea

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green bacteriaWhile antibiotics have dramatically reduced the incidence of illness and death from infectious diseases, overuse of the drugs has been a growing problem for decades, resulting in antibiotic-resistant “superbugs.”  Prolonged and even short-term use of antibiotics can often be likened to dropping Napalm on healthy gut flora, killing not only harmful bacteria but healthy organisms as well.

Enter fecal transplants.  The process involves extracting fecal microbes from healthy individuals and transplanting them into recipients with gastrointestinal disorders like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Fecal transplants have been gaining attention recently as an effective treatment to cure ailments of the gastrointestinal system, and studies in adults show a remarkable 90 percent cure rate among patients who undergo the treatment.

Now, pediatric gastroenterologists from Johns Hopkins Children’s Center are launching a fecal transplant study to treat drug-resistant strains of the C. difficile bacterium in patients with recurring diarrhea.  Cases of antibiotic-resistant diarrhea have more than doubled in the last 20 years, and most cases, say the researchers, were related to C. difficile infections.

Healthy gut flora maintain balance in the gastrointestinal system, and when antibiotics kill off healthy organisms the whole system can become imbalanced, often with serious consequences.  Johns Hopkins is one of only a handful of pediatric hospitals in the country to offer such treatment for diarrhea, a serious condition that causes a host of problems including dehydration and anemia.  In severe cases life-threatening inflammation in the colon can develop, making it especially important to find an effective method of treating the condition.

Therapeutic fecal microbiota transplantation is still in its infancy as a modern treatment (the practice goes back millennia to ancient China), and questions about how donor bacteria alter recipients’ gut flora and which bacteria make for the most effective transplants still remain. Nevertheless, fecal transplants look to be a promising solution for a host of gastrointestinal woes.

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