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How poo is being used to treat a life-threatening illness

An unusual treatment can transform the lives of people suffering from a potentially fatal infection.

The deliveries to one Aberdeen business are rather different to those most workplaces would readily accept.

As Brainwaves reveals, the staff at one enterprising company receive regular donations of human faeces but, rather than being an act of protest, it's all in the name of medical science.

Following treatment, the stools can be used in a treatment for Clostridium difficile (C. difficile), a bacterium found in the bowel that can cause severe and potentially fatal diarrhoea.

Faecal transplants

Dr James McIlroy on the potential benefits of treating patients with stool.

Dr James McIlroy founded EnteroBiotix after learning of the success medical researchers had in treating C. difficile by transferring stool from a healthy donor into the intestinal tracts of people with the infection.

The aim of the procedure is that bacterium in the donor stool will overpower the C.difficle and create an improved, healthier gut.

"Over 90% of these patients who were extremely sick were cured of their infection through the faecal transplant," explains Dr McIlroy.

"I realised that the procedure was performed relatively crudely, and some patients were doing this themselves at home. And I thought, 'There has to be a better way of doing this'."

'We take out the sweetcorn'

When the deliveries arrive production manager Nic Robinson and his team get straight to work.

He explained the need for a quick turnaround: “It’s all processed within six hours, to keep the bacterium [present in the stools] in pristine condition."

The stool is blended into a smooth suspension and pushed through a filter.

“You don’t want the big bits," says Nic. “We’re going to take out the sweetcorn!”

The processed stool is frozen and ready to be sent to medics who will administer it via one of a variety of procedures such as a colonoscopy or rectal enema.

'Education is needed'

Some in the medical world are still to be convinced of this treatment.

“This is vastly different from the majority of medicines that [the clinical community] provide on a day to day basis," says Dr McIlroy.

"There is an education piece that has to happen across the clinical community, the scientific community and probably the patient and lay population as well."

While many of us might feel queasy at the very thought of a faecal transplant, Dr McIlroy notes that those in need have no such qualms.

"The patients who have got these diseases are very open to novel treatments because at the end of the day what they’re most interested in is feeling better," he says.

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