THE HAGUE • After blood and sperm banks, Dutch researchers have now opened the country's first "poop bank" in a rare and cutting-edge branch of medicine to treat people with chronic gut infections.
"Our poop bank will help give doctors and hospitals access to transplants of faecal matter," said Dr Ed Kuijper, professor of microbiology at Leiden University.
The Netherlands Donor Faeces Bank will collect, store and distribute the stools necessary to help with such transplants.
Often, this is the "only solution for people suffering from chronic intestinal infections and, in particular, Clostridium difficile (CD)", a bacterium which can develop in patients, particularly after lengthy and heavy courses of antibiotics, Dr Kuijper said.
"Certain antibiotics destroy intestinal flora, which allows bacteria to develop and spread," he explained.
"Transplants of faecal matter allow healthy bacteria to be put back into the body, which then spread in the intestines and recreate healthy flora in the gut."
There are about 3,000 people diagnosed with CD annually in the Netherlands and about 5 per cent of cases become chronic. About three to four transplants of faecal material are carried out in the country every month.
In some cases, such infections can be fatal after triggering severe diarrhoea, inflammation of the colon and even intestinal perforations.
Donors must be "in good health, neither too overweight nor too skinny, and must have good intestinal flora", said Dr Kuijper.
Unlike in the United States, where the first two poop banks were opened last year, donors are not paid. Donations are collected at home and the donor remains anonymous.
The donated stools are taken to the bank in the western city of Leiden, and then transformed into a product which can be transplanted either through a nasal endoscopy or implanted directly via a colonoscopy.
It is hoped that the "poop bank" will also aid research into other illnesses and may be adapted for other conditions, such as the debilitating Crohn's disease.
"Stool donations are not as accepted yet as blood donations," Dr Kuijper acknowledged.
"But I think it's a question of what people are used to, and donors are offering the possibility of a safe treatment to patients suffering from what is a difficult illness."