Don't pooh-pooh faeces transplant treatment

Method can potentially be used to treat common ailments but has yet to catch on

A faeces transplant may smell - and sound like an odd cure, but it can potentially be used to treat common ailments such as irritable bowel syndrome if it catches on.

Two patients at the National University Hospital (NUH) have already found welcome relief:

Healthy bacteria from a donor's faecal matter were used to help restore their digestive systems to full health earlier this year.

Patients who typically require this treatment are those who have been put on strong antibiotics, which kill all but the most resistant bacteria. But the surviving bacteria can cause problems, from frequent diarrhoea to ruptured intestines, and even death.

NUH sees 20 to 30 cases of such gut infections every month. Only about two-thirds of patients respond to conventional treatment methods, and even then, the problem may recur.

While the faecal procedure is common overseas, NUH doctors say it has not caught on here due to the "yuck factor". For, of course, the first step is to collect stool from donors - which is more complex than it sounds.

Donors must pass a health screening and this is "as strict as that for the usual organ transplants", said Dr Calvin Koh, a registrar at NUH's gastroenterology and hepatology division. Then, the collected matter is processed to extract the "good bacteria" and rid it of undigested food, and put into the patient's intestines via a tube.

Dr David Ong, a consultant and clinical director at the same NUH division, said getting a friend or family member to be the donor may make the method "more acceptable". Educating patients may also help. He said: "You don't actually taste it, and you don't actually smell it. Those are the things that people worry about."

Civil servant Chan Xiu Li, 24, could not help uttering "Holy s***" when told of the treatment, but would not refuse it. "Why not? I want to live."