Scientists Say Frozen Poop Pills Can Help Fight Life-Threatening Infections

The news: Any way you put it, having someone else's poop inside your own body is never going to be a pleasant experience. Still, frozen pills might be the best method we've seen so far.

Fecal transplants are very effective at treating infections by life-threatening bacteria such as Clostridium difficile: when your gut is filled with toxins from bad bacteria, a dose of good bacteria from someone else's poop can do the job. But even the procedure's 90% success rate might not convince squeamish patients to go through with it, and there are dangers of complication, especially among the elderly.

A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association might change all that. Researchers from the U.S. and Israel were able to create frozen pills containing fresh poop from healthy donors, which replenished healthy gut bacteria in patients' bowels — and replicated the 90% success rate of fecal transplants.

"So they are sort of brownish-colored capsules," Massachusetts General Hospital's Elizabeth Hohmann told NPR. "Fortunately, because they're frozen, when you take them out of the freezer they sort of frost up a bit and they're not too gross."

Why this is important: C. difficile is one of the so-called hospital infections like MRSA, which people have a higher chance of picking up at medical facilities. And considering that the U.S. spends $3.2 billion annually to treat C. difficile, and that the bacterium is responsible for American 14,000 deaths per year, there is a lot of relevance for this research.

In recent months, the idea of using frozen feces and even creating a frozen bank for healthy poop has gained traction in the scientific community. But frozen pills present an even more attractive option: Not only does it eliminate a rather invasive procedure, but it also allows researchers to run rigorous testing and only store feces from known safe sources.

In frozen form, these pills can also last longer and be made available to more people. 

"The use of capsules simplifies the procedure immensely, potentially making it accessible to a greater population," Ilan Youngster from Boston Children's Hospital told the BBC.

As much as the idea might gross you out, poop pills might be the best idea we've seen yet when it comes to treating life-threatening diarrhea — you've got to fight fire with fire, after all.

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Eileen Shim

Eileen is a writer living in New York. She studied comparative literature and international studies at Yale University, and enjoys writing about the intersection of culture and politics.

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