To Ease Fecal Treatment, Stool Bank Starts Producing Long-Awaited ‘Poop Pill’

Introducing: the poop pill  (Courtesy of OpenBiome)

Introducing: the poop pill (Courtesy of OpenBiome)

By Gabrielle Emanuel

Fecal transplants may have just gotten a lot easier to swallow.

OpenBiome, the nation’s first stool bank, is beginning large-scale production of a poop pill. This week marks the first time such a pill will be commercially available to hospitals and clinics.

Early tests suggest the pill is highly effective and comparable to traditional, more invasive delivery methods — for instance via colonoscopy, enema or a plastic tube through the nose and into the stomach or intestines.

“Fecal transplants came from what used to be this dark art — where you needed a donor and a blender,” says Mark Smith, research director at OpenBiome and one of its founders. “And now you basically take something out of the freezer and can treat the patient immediately. I’m very, very excited about this.”

Try not to get grossed out because this is an upbeat story. It’s about a very effective medical treatment for a really nasty infection.

Earlier, we reported on fecal transplants and OpenBiome’s struggle to survive.

Founded by MIT students and based in Medford, OpenBiome is just like a blood bank but for poop.

“Fecal transplants came from what used to be this dark art — where you needed a donor and a blender. Now you basically take something out of the freezer and can treat the patient immediately.”

– Mark Smith, OpenBiome research director

It collects healthy poop and then gives it to doctors so they can perform fecal transplants. This procedure is used for patients with recurrent Clostridium difficile or C.diff infections. The bacterium is in the gut and can cause bad — sometimes debilitating — diarrhea.

C.diff sickens hundreds of thousands each year and kills nearly 30,000 people annually in the U.S.

But fecal transplants have proven to be remarkably effective when it comes to C.diff. Technically called Fecal Microbiota Transplantation (FMT), the procedure has been shown to be nearly 90 percent effective in treating C.diff. That’s compared to standard antibiotics, which cure less than 40 percent of recurrent C.diff patients, according to OpenBiome.

This procedure involves collecting stool from a healthy donor and infusing it in the gut of a sick individual. But the catch is that the delivery method is both unpleasant and invasive. Continue reading

Appreciating The Nature In Your Medicine Cabinet

By James Morris
Guest contributor

One of the the most exciting aspects of the recent discovery of the new antibiotic teixobactic was the way scientists discovered it — and where.

The antibiotic comes from a bacterium that was found in a sample of soil from Maine. To uncover it, scientists used a new technique that allowed them to screen bacteria for antibiotics without growing them in culture, opening the door to finding newer, more potent and less resistant antibiotics in the future.

It’s worth noting that teixobactic is not the only antibiotic that comes from a bacterium. In fact, many of our antibiotics come from bacteria and other microbes, and many of our medicines come from nature. It’s one of the benefits of biodiversity.

Recently, I was teaching a class on biodiversity to college students. To get them thinking about how we benefit from species richness, I asked the class to name a couple of medicines that derive from nature.

I thought this would be an easy question. To my surprise, the class (of 250 students) was silent. This was unusual — I usually have more trouble keeping them quiet. Finally, after maybe 20 seconds (a long time in a large lecture hall), a hand shot up. “Marijuana!” one student proudly exclaimed.

I was taken aback. Not because weed was mentioned in a college classroom. And not because the student was incorrect — she was of course correct. Marijuana comes from the plant Cannabis and it has some useful medicinal properties, for example to treat nausea caused by cancer chemotherapy, and fatigue, appetite loss and pain associated with AIDS. There is continued debate over its use, but that’s not the point.

The point is that while the class was hard-pressed to come up with more than one medicine derived from nature, the reality is just the opposite: It’s difficult to think of a medicine that doesn’t ultimately come from nature.

If apples and carrots are nature’s toothbrush, grapes are nature’s jellybeans, and raisins are nature’s candy, then certainly plants, animals, fungi, and microbes are nature’s medicine cabinet.

Perhaps the most famous example is penicillin. Continue reading

French Kissing For Science And Sharing More Than Romance

Photo: Compfight

(.craig/Flickr via Compfight)

That kiss last night? You may have left with more than butterflies. According to Dutch researchers, the average 10-second french kiss can result in the exchange of around 80 million pieces of bacteria.

And they have the data to prove it.

Twenty-one couples recently volunteered to kiss for science. This all went down at the Amsterdam Royal Artis Zoo in 2012. The Dutch researchers studying bacteria surveyed the kissing habits of each partner in each couple with questions like, “How often do you kiss? and “When did you last kiss?” Researchers then swabbed each partner’s tongues for “salivary microbiota,” before and after a “controlled kissing experiment” (read: a tightly timed 10 seconds).

Then there was a second kiss. One member of the couple was asked to swig some probiotic yogurt beforehand. This made it easier to look at the bacteria from the yogurt both on the tongue of the person who drank it — and the tongue of the person who didn’t.

So what do we learn?

Turns out shared microbiota can actually survive on another person’s tongue. Samples of oral flora from the partner were more similar than those drawn from randomly selected passersby. Continue reading

Added Fear Of Flying: Disease-Causing Bacteria Linger On Plane Surfaces



Add this to your lengthy list of flying-related miseries: disease-causing bacteria that live on airplane armrests, tray tables, toilet buttons and other surfaces can linger on and on — for up to an entire week.

This new data, with its off-the-charts gross factor, comes from scientists attending the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology. From the news release:

In order for disease-causing bacteria to be transmitted from a cabin surface to a person, it must survive the environmental conditions in the airplane. In the study Kiril Vaglenov, of Auburn University who presented the data, and his colleagues tested the ability of two pathogens, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and E. coli O157:H7 to survive on surfaces commonly found in airplanes. They obtained six different types of material from a major airline carrier (armrest, plastic tray table, metal toilet button, window shade, seat pocket cloth, and leather), inoculated them with the bacteria and exposed them to typical airplane conditions.

MRSA lasted longest (168 hours) on material from the seat-back pocket while E. coli O157:H7 survived longest (96 hours) on the material from the armrest.

“Our data show that both of these bacteria can survive for days on the selected types of surfaces independent of the type of simulated body fluid present, and those pose a risk of transmission via skin contact,” says Vaglenov.

This research is laying the groundwork for important work to come.

“Our future plans include the exploration of effective cleaning and disinfection strategies, as well as testing surfaces that have natural antimicrobial properties to determine whether these surfaces help reduce the persistence of disease-causing bacteria in the passenger aircraft cabin,” says Vaglenov.

Germy Pacifiers: Study Finds Teeming Microbes, Better Cleaning Needed

(Wikimedia Commons)

No, no, not the binky!! That will be many an exhausted parent’s first reaction at the news that researchers have found striking levels of contamination with a wide variety of scary germs on some used pacifiers.

But have no fear, binky-dependent caregivers. The research, released at the annual meeting of the American Society for Clinical Pathology just held in Boston, does not mean you have to give up the one thing that keeps your young charge reliably quiet.

The researchers conclude that the pacifiers need to be cleaned better, not immediately thrown out. (Oh, and the ten-second rule? Sorry. If it pops out and lands anywhere, it needs cleaning, they say.) Here’s the full press release from the society:

Pacifiers — used by up to 85 percent of infants in the United States –can be contaminated with harmful germs ranging from Staphylococcus aureus and Klebsiella pneumonia to mold, according to research presented at the 2012 American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) Annual Meeting in Boston, Oct. 31–Nov. 3.

A contaminated pacifier grows a biofilm, a slimy coating of bacteria that changes the normal microbe balance in the mouth and is particularly resistant to antibiotics, researchers said. Biofilms can lead to inflammation that may increase the risk of developing colic or ear infections, and are caused by bacteria that have been linked to conditions such as depression, cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome. There also is evidence that interactions between germs and the immune system can lead to allergies, asthma and autoimmune diseases.

“Research shows pacifiers have their benefits, such as soothing infants and even protecting against Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), but they’re easily contaminated and parents need to do a better job of keeping them clean,” said Jay Bullard, MS, manager of the Microbial Forensics Research Laboratory at Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences in Tulsa, Okla. “No one wants to eat with a dirty spoon in a nice restaurant, but parents often think nothing of picking a pacifier up off the floor at a mall and putting it back in an infant’s mouth.”

In the study, researchers collected 10 used pacifiers of different designs from healthy infants at a pediatric clinic. They minced the nipples and shields, placed them in a lab dish and looked at the cultures grown after 24 and 48 hours. Continue reading

Wellfleet’s Popular Gull Pond Closed Due To High Bacteria Counts

Trouble In Paradise

WELLFLEET — In my mind, it usually takes a full season of loosely diapered babies and after-hours pet activity to shut down the heavily trafficked ponds here. But at dusk last night, there stood the sign, posted right at the water’s edge of this seemingly pristine kettle pond where scores of children take swimming lessons each summer: a warning that swimming might make you sick.

It seems bacteria counts rose above safe levels here at popular Gull and neighboring Higgins pond, as well as The Sluiceway, the lovely, remote narrow waterway that connects the two freshwater ponds.

According to Susan Thomas, Wellfleet’s beach administrator, fecal contamination is the likely culprit, but not from humans. “Critter poop,” she says is probably to blame, due to runoff into the ponds from this week’s heavy rains.

Here’s the official word in an email from Hillary Greenberg, Wellfleet’s Health and Conservation Agent:

Sent: Thu, 14 Jul 2011 17:14:27 -0400
Subject: Gull Pond

Good Afternoon:

Today we had to close Gull Pond and the Sluiceway to swimming because of an enterococci exceedence. The pond was resampled this afternoon and I expect results within 24 hours. I am not too hopeful that it will conform on a resample though based on the results from Higgins Pond this past week. Continue reading

Public Health Permits For Nail Salons

That mani-pedi can pose a health risk for both people involved. Possible fungus or bacteria for the salon client. Possible ill effects from fumes for the salon worker.

The Globe’s inimitable Steve Smith called attention to the health hazards of nail salons in this story three years ago, and today the Boston Public Health Commission announced that it will hold a public hearing on Nov. 29 on proposed new rules that would set safety, cleanliness and sanitation requirements for the hundreds of nail salons in Boston. The commission says:

The standards are designed to protect the health of nail technicians, clients, and visitors from the risk of injury or infection due to unsanitary conditions and exposure to hazardous chemicals….

Last month the board gave preliminary approval to a proposed regulation that would standardize nail salon practices, such as hand washing, sterilization of tools, and labeling of chemicals. The proposed regulation comes amid growing concern about the health and safety of workers and clients. Nail technicians, who are exposed to a myriad of potentially hazardous chemicals every day, may experience headaches, dizziness, fatigue, breathing difficulties, and infertility. Inadequate sterilization can lead to allergic reactions, bacterial and fungal infections, and injuries.

The proposed regulation would require that the Boston Public Health Commission inspect and permit all nail salons in Boston. An owner of a nail salon found to be in violation of any provision of the proposed regulation may be fined $100 for the first violation, $200 for the second violation within a 12-month period, and $300 for the third and all subsequent violation(s) within a 12- month period. Repeated violations may result in suspension or revocation of the salon’s permit to operate.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health currently regulates nail salons statewide. The proposed regulations would allow the Boston Public Health Commission to, for the first time, inspect and permit them nail salons, according to a Commission spokeswoman.