Two years ago, Dr. Alexander Khoruts took on a patient suffering from an awful infection of Clostridium difficile; she was suffering from diarrhea. Now we’ve all probably had our bad moments, but this is not your average case. It was so bad that she was practically stuck in a wheelchair wearing diapers. She was also losing massive weight and she was practically on the road to death, since no antibiotics treatment worked. But Dr. Khoruts had an idea.
He thought the time had come for a transplant; but he didn’t think of transplanting a part of intestine, or stomach, or any other organ. Instead, he transplanted some of her husband’s bacteria. Bacteria from his stool, that is. He mixed it with some saline solution and implanted it into her colon. According to the doctor and his colleagues, the diarrhea dissapeared within a day and did not return.
The procedure is not without precedent, and has been carried out a few times throughout the past decades. However, pretty much nobody expected it to actually work – even the doctors themselves. But they were able to do something that is a premiere: take a genetic survey of her gut flora before and after the procedure.
“The normal bacteria just didn’t exist in her,” said Dr. Khoruts. “She was colonized by all sorts of misfits. hat community was able to function and cure her disease in a matter of days,” said Janet Jansson, a microbial ecologist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a co-author of the paper. “I didn’t expect it to work. The project blew me away.”
This is yet another proof that we have still many to understand about the microbes that live inside of us, some of which play a vital role in our own survival.
“We have over 10 times more microbes than human cells in our bodies,” said George Weinstock of Washington University in St. Louis. But the microbiome, as it’s known, remains mostly a mystery. “It’s as if we have these other organs, and yet these are parts of our bodies we know nothing about.”
Now that’s something worth thinking about when you go to sleep at night.