Cleveland Clinic asked more than 100 of its top experts about the innovations set to reshape healthcare in the coming year. These are their answers — the Top 10 Innovations for 2014.
The microbiota, or mix of microbes, in your intestines exists in a delicate state of balance. Sometimes, antibiotics used for treatment can undo that balance by killing both aggressive and friendly bacteria.
When this happens, hardy C.diff (short for Clostridium difficile) microbes live on — often with disastrous results when they spread infection from person to person. Many gastroenterologists are fighting this problem with a novel approach called fecal microbiota transplantation, a.k.a. human stool transplants.
In this therapy, doctors use a colonoscopy or enema to transfer a liquid suspension made from a healthy person’s fecal matter into a sick person’s colon. The goal is to restore bacterial balance and fight infections and diseases.
Fecal microbiota transplantation could become a primary therapy not only for C.diff infection, but also for inflammatory bowel disease.
C.diff poses such high risks because of how it spreads, particularly in hospitals. It can be transmitted to hands, food, utensils, sheets, countertops and curtains as spores. When passed to another person, these spores lead to intestinal inflammation, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, C. diff infections have increased to 500,000 cases each year in the United States. That includes 15,000 deaths annually.
Fecal transplantation might help bring those numbers down.
Clinical study results have been positive. Some people who have had multiple C. diff infections have realized benefits from the therapy hours later, have been cured of their symptoms within 24 hours, and have had no further infections.
As research continues, experts expect that fecal microbiota transplantation could become a primary therapy not only for C.diff infection, but also for inflammatory bowel disease. It even holds promise for treating conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and Parkinson’s disease.