Taking a Dump Like a Pro? You Can Help the World!
Today we are gonna talk with you about shit. Literally turds, poo, dung. But scientifically! It is a serious topic, mind you, and keep your childish jokes to yourselves.
Our hero today is Claudia Campanella. She is thirty-one, she works as a student support administrator at a UK university, and her free time she spends in a clinic as the girl is an excrement donor.
As she says about such an unusual mmm way to spend her time, some of her friends find it weird and even disgusting, but she doesn’t give a shit about it. In fact, she said “it doesn’t worry me,” but hey, I couldn’t waste such an opportunity to make a decent pun.
“It’s very easy to donate and I just want to help with medical research. I’m glad to contribute,” adds Claudia.
You may be wondering how poop can be donated. The same as any other donor material: you take it from one person and put it into the one who needs it. In the case of feces, it is put into the intestines of a recipient to add some “good” bacteria into their guts.
But why Claudia? What’s so important in the poo that she produces? Is it any special?
People are unique. And their poo is unique. And some shit is better than others (I can’t believe I say what I say, hehe). Scientists believe that some people are more gifted than others with the mix of bacteria they have living inside. So the combination of healing bugs makes these people’s poo more precious and perfect to fix what’s wrong with one’s guts.
Claudia says she wanted to become a donor because she had read that vegans might make particularly good candidates.
It is not actually proved that excrements of grass-eaters are superior to one from meat-eaters. But the theory is being under investigation as well as many others while experts are trying to define what makes a stool an extraordinary one.
One of the experts involved in the exploration of the idea of super poo donors is Dr. Justin O’Sullivan, a molecular biology expert at the University of Auckland.
An ideal crap?
Did you know that the overall amount of bacteria living inside each of as much as about two kilograms? Millions and millions of bugs call your body a cozy home and help to maintain it properly. The combination of various microorganisms inside us is unique to each person.
It hasn’t been long since fecal transplantation became real and people of science got interested in it. But the studies that have already been conducted give a hint that some donors’ shit is more suitable for transplantation that others’.
Dr O’Sullivan says that they see transplants from super-donors achieve clinical remission rates of perhaps double the remaining average.
“Our hope is that if we can discover how this happens, then we can improve the success of fecal transplantation and even trial it for new microbiome-associated conditions like Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis and asthma.”
Dr Jon Landy, a consultant gastroenterologist for West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust, gives his helping hand to do some shitty job in their fecal transplant unit.
He agrees with the concept of some people being super-donors but says finding one could be tricky as they don’t fully understand yet what is it that makes some poo better than others or why.
“We always make sure our donors are healthy and not carrying any disease, but we don’t test all of their microbiomes to see what that is like. These are the sorts of investigations that might need to be done.”
Brown lil helpers
Dr O’Sullivan published relative research in the journal Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology. The study suggests having lots of different microorganisms in your poo might be the advantage. Unless there are some parasites. Or an alien. That definitely will be good neither for you nor for the patient.
According to Dr. O’Sullivan, one of the most notable factors that impact the success (or failure) of fecal transplantation is a larger number of species in the donor’s excrements. And patients who respond well to the transplants develop a more diverse set of microorganisms too.
Poo bugs diversity is significant, yet not the only factor that matters. The research says success could also depend on how good a match the donor is for the patient.
And while I mentioned parasites as a joke, who or what is found in the poo might have its impact as well.
“Some cases of recurrent diarrheal infection have even been cured with transplants of filtered stool, that has had all the live bacteria filtered out but still contains DNA, viruses, and other debris. These viruses could affect the survival and metabolic function of transplanted bacteria and other microbes,” says Dr O’Sullivan.
Dr Julie McDonald, a microbiome expert at Imperial College London, has been studying how to make shit transplants more successful. Gosh, all those people who study excrements! I bet it’s not the type of job they dreamed of in childhood.
At the moment, most of the donated dung is used to help people that suffer from an infection called clostridium difficile, which damages one’s gut damn severely.
This infection wakes up and invades patient’s intestines when there is a lack of common good bacteria in the bowel. It often happens after taking antibiotics that kill good and bad without any difference. For the most vulnerable, it can be deadly. So next time your doctor prescribes you some probiotics, don’t ignore it!
Dr. McDonald’s in her work makes a suggestion that poo transplants do a very specific job, replacing something lost in the disease. She found patients suffering from clostridium difficile infections had virtually undetectable levels of a short-chain fatty acid valerate produced by healthy gut microbial metabolism. The only way to bring it to the level it should be is a successful fecal transplant.
She is currently working on alternative ways of treating the condition: “In our lab, we are trying to figure out exactly how the transplants work, and we are looking at whether we even move away from giving feces itself.”
The idea is to develop a treatment based on the feces instead of giving the patient an injection of feces. Which is gross and disturbing. Taking pill made out of excrements is also a so-so alternative, but still better. Dr. McDonald hopes that a new approach will help to get around the whole poo taboo that’s associated with donating.
Claudia wants people to “get over the mental barrier” and encourages them to become a donor. “It’s really very easy to donate. It’s simple to do. If you are thinking about it, check if a hospital nearby has a service and get in touch with them. I collect my fresh sample at home in a container that my hospital provides. Then I drop it off to the hospital as I pass by it on my way to work. It’s just a little bit of effort.”
Next step Claudia sees is becoming a blood donor too. Well, after carrying your poo around in a container, that one is an easy job.