News, Analysis, Trends, Management Innovations for
Clinical Laboratories and Pathology Groups

Hosted by Robert Michel

News, Analysis, Trends, Management Innovations for
Clinical Laboratories and Pathology Groups

Hosted by Robert Michel
Sign In

Clinical laboratory scientists and microbiologists could play a role in helping doctors explain to patients the potential dangers of do-it-yourself medical treatments

Be careful what you wish for when you perform do-it-yourself (DIY) medical treatments. That’s the lesson learned by a woman who was seeking relief for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). When college student Daniell Koepke did her own fecal transplant using poop from her brother and her boyfriend as donors her IBS symptoms improved, but she began to experience medical conditions that afflicted both fecal donors.

“It’s possible that the bacteria in the stool can influence inflammation in the recipient’s body, by affecting their metabolism and activating their immune response,” microbial ecologist Jack Gilbert, PhD, Professor and Associate Vice Chancellor at University of California San Diego (UC San Diego) told Business Insider. “This would cause shifts in their hormonal activity, which could promote the bacteria that can cause acne on the skin. We nearly all have this bacterium on skin, but it is often dormant,” he added.

A Fecal Microbiota Transplant (FMT) is a procedure where stool from a healthy donor is transplanted into the microbiome of a patient plagued by a certain medical condition.

Our guts are home to trillions of microorganisms (aka, microbes), known as the gut microbiota, that serve many important functions in the body. The microbiome is a delicate ecosystem which can be pushed out of balance when advantageous microbes are outnumbered by unfavorable ones. An FMT is an uncomplicated and powerful method of repopulating the microbiome with beneficial microbes.   

“With fecal microbiome transplants there is really compelling evidence, but the science is still developing. We’re still working on if it actually has benefits for wider populations and if the benefit is long-lasting,” said Gilbert in a Netflix documentary titled, “Hack Your Health: The Secrets of Your Gut.”

“The microbial community inside our gut can have surprising influences on different parts of our body,” microbial ecologist Jack Gilbert, PhD (above), of the Gilbert Lab at University of California San Diego told Business Insider. “Stools are screened before clinical FMTs, and anything that could cause major problems, such as certain pathogens, would be detected. When you do this at home, you don’t get that kind of screening.” Doctors and clinical laboratories screening patients for IBS understand the dangers of DIY medical treatments. (Photo copyright: University of California San Diego.)

Changing Poop Donors

When Koepke began experiencing symptoms of IBS including indigestion, stabbing pains from trapped gas and severe constipation, she initially turned to physicians for help.

In the Netflix documentary, Koepke stated that she was being prescribed antibiotics “like candy.” Over the course of five years, she completed six rounds of antibiotics per year, but to no avail.

She also changed her diet, removing foods that were making her symptoms worse. This caused her to lose weight and she eventually reached a point where she could only eat 10 to 15 foods. 

“It’s really hard for me to remember what it was like to eat food before it became associated with anxiety and pain and discomfort,” she said.

In an attempt to relieve her IBS symptoms, Koepke made her own homemade fecal transplant pills using donated stool from her brother. After taking them her IBS symptoms subsided and she slowly gained weight. But she developed hormonal acne just like her brother. 

Koepke then changed donors, using her boyfriend’s poop to make new fecal transplant pills. After she took the new pills, her acne dissipated but she developed depression, just like her boyfriend. 

“Over time, I realized my depression was worse than it’s ever been in my life,” Koepke stated in the documentary.

She believes the microbes that were contributing to her boyfriend’s depression were also transplanted into her via the fecal transplant pills. When she reverted to using her brother’s poop, her depression abated within a week.

Gilbert told Business Insider his research illustrates that people who suffer from depression are lacking certain bacteria in their gut microbiome.

“She may have had the ‘anti-depressant’ bacteria in her gut, but when she swapped her microbiome with his, her anti-depressant bacteria got wiped out,” he said.

FDA Approves FMT Therapy for Certain Conditions

Typically, the fecal material for an FMT procedure performed by a doctor comes from fecal donors who have been rigorously screened for infections and diseases. The donations are mixed with a sterile saline solution and filtered which produces a liquid solution. That solution is then administered to a recipient or frozen for later use. 

Fecal transplant methods include:

On November 30, 2022, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first FMT therapy, called Rebyota, for the prevention of Clostridioides difficile (C. diff.) in adults whose symptoms do not respond to antibiotic therapies. Rebyota is a single-dose treatment that is administered rectally into the gut microbiome at a doctor’s office. 

Then, in April of 2023, the FDA approved the use of a medicine called Vowst, which is the first oral FMT approved by the FDA.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, scientists are exploring the possibility that fecal transplants may be used as a possible treatment for many health conditions, including:

Doctors and clinical laboratories know that do-it-yourself medicine is typically not a good idea for obvious reasons. Patients seldom appreciate all the implications of the symptoms of an illness, nor do they fully understand the potentially dangerous consequences of self-treatment. Scientists are still researching the benefits of fecal microbiota transplants and hope to discover more uses for this treatment. 

—JP Schlingman

Related Information:

A Woman Gave Herself Poop Transplants Using Her Brother’s Feces to Treat Debilitating IBS. Then She Started Getting Acne Just Like Him.

FDA Approves First Orally Administered Fecal Microbiota Product for the Prevention of Recurrence of Clostridioides Difficile Infection

FDA Approves First FMT Therapy and Issues Guidance

Everything You Want to Know about Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Stanford University Scientists Discover New Lifeform Residing in Human Microbiome

Microbiome Firm Raises $86.5 Million and Inks Deal to Sell Consumer Test Kits in 200 CVS Pharmacies

Researchers Find Health of Human Microbiome Greatly Influenced by Foods We Eat