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A McMaster University study led by St. Joseph’s Dr. Christine Lee, Medical Director, Infection Prevention and Control, has concluded that frozen poop has the potential to save thousands of lives.

Fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT) treatment is used as a safer alternative when the only other option is removing the patient’s colon, which is risky with a death rate of 50 per cent. Liquid forms of feces are obtained from healthy donors by colonoscopy, endoscopy, sigmoidoscopy or enema, and a single donation is enough for up to 10 transplants.   

Current challenges include locating stool donors, the time involved in screening donors for urgent transplants, and the short shelf life of liquid feces. The research study results confirmed that using frozen feces instead of the more common practice of transplanting fresh stool eliminates most of the hurdles and extends the shelf life from 24 hours to one year.

"It is important to have this," says Dr. Christine Lee. "The reason why patients have recurring C. difficile is because they no longer have healthy bacteria to protect against it."

The devastation the bacterium can cause is known all too well in this area after Joseph Brant Hospital had the worst C. difficile outbreak in Ontario in 2007 with over 200 infected and 91 deaths.

The infection that causes mild to severe diarrhea and intestinal conditions like inflammation of the colon is become increasingly resistant to treatment with about one-fourth of patients developing recurrent C. difficile.

About 150 transplants are done in Hamilton each year but Dr. Christine Lee believes that having frozen stool means care providers, “are able to offer it to more patients in a faster turn around time.”  Dr. Lee is currently planning to study if freeze-drying donated feces would extend the shelf-life date even further without affecting the transplant outcome, which currently has success rates of 75 to 85 per cent.

The study produced significant findings and was published in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) which is one of the world's most prestigious medical journals.

The research was funded by Physicians Services Incorporated, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council, the National Science Foundation and the Gastrointestinal Diseases Research Unit at Kingston General Hospital, which partnered with St. Joseph's and McMaster to do the work.

Read more:
The Hamilton Spectator

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