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Everybody poops. That’s not just the name of a popular potty training book, but it’s an essential fact of life. However, most people merely flush it away without a second thought. In the spirit of one man’s trash being another man’s treasure, the non-profit company OpenBiome is actually paying for stool samples in order to create lifesaving fecal transplant treatments for those infected with Clostridium difficile, a bacteria which is highly resistant to antibiotics.
Infections of C. difficile result in severe diarrhea, hospitalizing 250,000 Americans each year and causing about 14,000 deaths. It can actually come about after using antibiotics for too long, which ties into what makes it exceptionally difficult to treat. The patient’s gut microbiota is nearly wiped out, and conventional probiotics are not sufficient to replace them.
The best treatment for C. difficile infections is a fecal transplant, and yes, it has traditionally been as horrible as it sounds. Doctors have relied on highly invasive nasogastric tubes (NG tubes) or colonoscopies to put donor fecal matter into the gut of their infected patients. As difficult as the process may be, it is highly successful. A new method uses capsules of frozen fecal matter, which thaw out in the body and release the contents in the small intestines. The success rates of the capsules is comparable to traditional treatments, around 90 percent.
These frozen fecal capsules are OpenBiome’s wheelhouse, as they collect and screen stool samples, and turn them into the ready-to-administer treatments for hospitals. Of course, the feces needs to be sourced from somewhere. OpenBiome pays donors who are committed to providing multiple samples per week.