We’re all full of bacteria, but some of us don’t have as much of the ‘good’ stuff as we should. This year, medical researchers will conduct a medical trial to determine whether orally ingesting capsules filled with freeze-dried fecal matter can help crack the code in the fight against obesity. Twenty obese patients will participate in a clinical trial in an effort to determine whether ‘healthy’ bacteria from donors can be implanted into a patient’s digestive system by ingesting the pills, and whether it will have a positive impact on their weight.
Elaine Yu, an assistant professor and researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital, will lead the clinical trial. The idea is the same as in the controversial (and somewhat icky) practice of fecal transplants: fecal matter is collected from the intestines of healthy donors in hopes that the intestinal microbes (aka “good bacteria”) contained within will improve the recipients’ health. The experiment will begin later this year and will last for six weeks, as researchers track patients’ weight loss progress.
Looking to fecal matter to solve health problems may sound like a load of, well, fecal matter. But the practice, although new, carries a lot of promise for patients who have exhausted most other options. Obesity isn’t the only condition treated by the new approach. Johns Hopkins’ website explains that fecal transplantation can be used to introduce healthy microbes anytime a patient’s gut bacteria is compromised, whether by antibiotic treatments or another ailment.
The link between gut bacteria and obesity is virtually unknown, which Yu admits. “We have no idea what the result will be,” she told Ars Technica. Yet, she and her team are hoping to further the findings found in previous medical research, including a 2008 study of twins and a 2014 discovery by Cornell University researchers. Those studies suggest a relationship between diverse gut bacteria and obesity that led clinical researchers like Yu to investigate further with human subjects.
Ironically, at least one woman claimed to have gained 36 pounds as the direct result of a fecal transplant, so it will be interesting to hear the results of this new study. Maybe the concept is full of fecal matter after all.