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Fecal transplants used successfully to treat ulcerative colitis

A quarter of the patients who received FMT witnessed a remission of their symptoms.

By Brooks Hays
Fecal transplants used successfully to treat ulcerative colitis
Bacteria. Photo by Juan Gaertner/Shutterstock

HAMILTON, Ontario, July 3 (UPI) -- Fecal transplantation has proven a promising strategy in addressing a range of gastrointestinal health problems. Now, two new studies suggest the treatment can successfully combat ulcerative colitis.

Fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT) is treatment whereby fecal matter from a healthy patient is transplanted into the intestines of a patient with a gastrointestinal disorder. Research suggests a lack of healthy bacteria in the gut is the cause of many digestive issues -- ulcerative colitis being one of them.

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By introducing the proper microbiota via healthy fecal samples, some of these issues can be curtailed. That's the idea, but does the theory hold true in practice? Recent studies conducted by researchers from the Farncombe Family Digestive Health Research Institute at McMaster University suggest it does.

Ulcerative colitis is the name for severe, chronic bowel inflammation, which results in variety of digestive symptoms, including abdominal pain, bloody stools, diarrhea, malnutrition and weight loss.

A promising animal study paved the way for doctors at McMaster's Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine to test the therapy on patients with ulcerative colitis flareups. Researchers recruited 75 patients for the study. Half received a fecal transplant via enema, while half received a water enema.

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While only five percent of the control group saw significant improvement in symptoms, a quarter of the patients who received FMT witnessed a remission of their symptoms.

"Our study in patients with ulcerative colitis is the first randomized trial of fecal microbiota transplantation in adults with ulcerative colitis and shows that this therapy may work," Paul Moayyedi, a professor of medicine at McMaster and study of a new paper on the subject, explained in a press release. "The effect of fecal transplant seems to be dependent on the sort of bacteria that is in the donor stool, which fits with the observations of Dr. Verdu's animal study."

"Many questions remain, but this provides interesting data suggesting that altering the gut microbial flora may be promising for treating ulcerative colitis," the authors wrote in the conclusion of the study, published this week in the journal Gastroenterology.

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