Transplanting healthy stool into patients with ulcerative colitis may help alleviate debilitating symptoms and even cure the tough-to-treat disease, a new study in Australia revealed.

Known as an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), ulcerative colitis affects up to 700,000 Americans. It is different from Crohn's disease as it only affects the colon. It causes long-lasting sores and inflammation in the digestive tract.

Now, scientists in Australia found that fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT), a treatment used to address Clostridium difficile infection, is an effective approach in helping individuals with ulcerative colitis.

In fact, researchers discovered that one in four patients who were intolerant or resistant to conventional treatment for ulcerative colitis achieved the goals of the new study through the help of FMT.

FMT for Treatment

Led by gastroenterologist Sudarshan Paramsothy of the University of New South Wales, researchers analyzed 81 ulcerative colitis patients who were resistant to steroids or anti-inflammatory medications.

Study participants were divided into two groups. The first group, with 41 patients, received repeated FMT over the course of eight weeks while the second group received a placebo.

The fecal matter used in the transplant was taken from at least three donors per patient in order to reduce the chances that a single donor's microbiome distort results.

The stool was also homogenized, filtered and frozen for storage before being infused as a liquid slurry enema into patients' rectum.

Multiple donations were required to supply the 40 infusions for each participant, who administered their infusions after the first treatment. Paramsothy said there was also a risk of infection transmission whenever biological matter are used, but this risk can be reduced by comprehensive screening.

After approximately eight weeks, 27 percent of the study participants achieved the primary goal: patients reported no ulcerative colitis symptoms. Doctors determined through endoscopic examination that the colon's lining had either healed or significantly improved.

On the other hand, only three of 40 patients on placebo achieved the goal.

When Paramsothy examined patients who reported being symptom-free without checking their colons, they discovered that 44 percent reached the milestone as compared to the 20 percent in the placebo group.

Although the results of the study has not been peer-reviewed yet, experts say the findings are remarkable.

"I was most impressed," said Dr. R. Balfour Sartor. "I think we need to pay attention to this study."

And even though there is a "yuck" factor when it comes to these kinds of studies, Sartor said doctors and patients have to be convinced that it is effective and safe.

Meanwhile, further research has to be conducted in order to determine the long-term effects of FMT in ulcerative colitis patients.

Photo: Max Charping | Flickr

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