Digestive Health

Updated 18 April 2013

Faecal transplant may help with bowel disease

Symptoms of ulcerative colitis disappeared for one-third of patients after process.


Faecal transplantation - an innovative enema treatment - may help reduce or eliminate symptoms of ulcerative colitis in most children and young adults, according to a small study.

The process, formally called faecal microbial transplantation, involves placing stool from a healthy donor into a recipient's intestines in order to restore healthy bacteria.

The early clinical trial - the first in the United States to study the process in children - was conducted by a team at Helen DeVos Children's Hospital in Grand Rapids, Mich.

The study included 10 participants, aged 7 to 20 years, with mild to moderate ulcerative colitis. Enemas were used to give the patients lab-prepared stool samples from a healthy adult donor. Each patient received five such treatments within one week.

78% of the patients had a reduction in ulcerative colitis symptoms within a week, and 67% still had reduced symptoms a month after faecal transplantation. 33% of the patients no longer had any symptoms of ulcerative colitis after the process.

No serious side effects were noted, according to the study.

Abnormal to normal

Ulcerative colitis is a type of inflammatory bowel disease that affects the lining of the large intestine, or colon, and rectum, according to the US National Institutes of Health. Symptoms can include abdominal pain, cramping, bloody diarrhoea, pus in the stool, fever, rectal pain, weight loss, nausea, vomiting, joint pain, mouth sores, skin lesions and slow growth in children.

The disease often forces children to miss school and limit their social activities.

Faecal transplantation "has been proposed as a promising new treatment option for recurrent C difficile infection and possibly for ulcerative colitis," lead investigator and pediatric gastroenterologist Dr Sachin Kunde said.

"We believe that the procedure may restore 'abnormal' bacteria to 'normal' in patients with ulcerative colitis," Kunde said.

"Our short-term study looked at the safety and tolerability of [faecal microbial transplantation] for these patients."

Larger and longer studies are needed before the process could be recommended for clinical practice, the researchers said.

As many as 700 000 Americans have ulcerative colitis, and approximately 25% are diagnosed during childhood, according to the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation. Kunde said faecal transplantation could offer patients a natural, inexpensive treatment option.

More information

The US National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases has more about ulcerative colitis.

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Dr. Estelle Wilken is a Senior Specialist in Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology at Tygerberg Hospital. She obtained her MBChB in 1976, her MMed (Int) in 1991 and her gastroenterology registration in 1995.

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