Skip to main content
Premium Trial:

Request an Annual Quote

The Stinky Bank

In an op-ed at the New York Times, science writer Moises Velasquez-Manoff wonders whether banking of fecal samples to restore gut microbes lost to antibiotic treatment should be more common. Some studies have linked antibiotic use, particularly early in life, with a slight increased risk of asthma, inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, and rheumatoid arthritis, he says.

Velasquez-Manoff notes that the idea of fecal self-transplants isn't new. A medical technologist in the late 1950s gave surgery patients who received prophylactic antibiotics capsules of their own pre-treatment feces. This, Velasquez-Manoff says, helped soothe the gut issues plaguing patients, though also cost the medical technologist his job for a while, as the patients didn't know what they were taking.

Fecal transplants have also become a treatment for recurrent Clostridium difficile infections, working some 90 percent of the time, Velasquez-Manoff says, though these are usually using samples from donors.

Banking fecal samples is also of interest at some medical centers, he notes. North York General Hospital recently performed a pilot study in which it banked incoming patients' stool for use to reconstitute their gut microbiome should they require antibiotics. Similarly, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center is pursuing a banking effort for cancer patients.

There's even, Velasquez-Manoff adds, a nonprofit organization, OpenBiome, that screens donors and stores stool samples for use by medical personnel, and it has now started a self-banking "PersonalBiome" program.

"But clearly, this idea needs testing," he says. "It may be one way to prevent infections and some percentage of lifelong, chronic diseases, not with fancy drugs or expensive procedures, but simply by restoring, after antimicrobial disturbances, the microbes we already carry."

Filed under