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Doctors use human feces to treat deadly disease

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports C. diff is the top hospital-acquired infection in the country that leads to 29,000 deaths a year.

HOUSTON — Doctors say pills filled with human feces have completely cured 90 percent of patients they’ve studied who suffer from clostridium difficile.

The chronic infection, commonly referred to as C. diff, causes inflammation of the colon. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports it’s the top hospital-acquired infection in the country that leads to 29,000 deaths a year.

“You stay close to home and close to the bathroom. It’s very uncomfortable. Seven months. It was incredibly miserable. Seven months of diarrhea. What can I say, it’s the pits,” said Linda Caraway.

Caraway is one of about 150 patients who signed up for a clinical trial with UTHealth and Kelsey Research Foundation.

As part of the study, patients take poop pills.

The clinical name for the procedure is Fecal Microbiota Transplantation, or FMT. The idea is the good bacteria in healthy stool repairs whatever is going wrong in the gut.

“It’s actually a fecal transplant. You think, well, before you start doing research, how is that done? And where does it come from?” Caraway said.

Doctors explain it comes from stool donors in Houston who are paid $10 per sample.

In a UTHealth lab, the stool samples are mixed with saline, filtered twice, freeze dried, then put in capsules.

Donors are thoroughly screened every month. To qualify for the program, no one in the donor’s family can have health issues.

As crazy as the concept sounds, the craziest part is doctors say it works.

“90 percent cured. Nothing else cures those patients. All the antibiotics in Houston, no way. It only makes it worse,” said Dr. Herbert DuPont, professor of infectious diseases at UTHealth School of Public Health and president of the Kelsey Research Foundation.

Although the pills have been successful, Dr. DuPont said they aren’t the answer.

The long term goal is to isolate the key bacteria at work and produce an advanced probiotic, like the ones already sold in stores.

However, for now, researchers rely on three donors who deliver stool samples every day.

One of the donors is a researcher who studies cancer, molecular imaging, and FMT. Shi Ke, MD, MS, has been a donor for two years.

“When you see the patient go from very sick to becoming healthy, I think that is the reward. That is why you learn medicine and that’s why you work in the medical center,” Ke said.

According to the research done so far, FMT has cured about 150 patients after one dose of 10 pills.

The FDA has now given the team the green light to expand their study to include Parkinson’s Disease, Fatty Liver Disease which is linked to type 2 diabetes and irritable bowel syndrome.

“It wasn’t like a trip to Disneyland, but you know, that roller coaster ride I was on ended in a positive way,” Caraway said.

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