Scots students create ‘poo bank’ to fight C. diff

A ‘poo bank’ could help hospital patients suffering from the potentially life-threatening superbug Clostridium difficile (C diff), according to Scots medical students.

C. diff is an infection of the gut which affects around 15,000 people in the UK every year, and it can be difficult to treat with antibiotics because around one in four people who catch it relapse, resulting in lengthy hospital stays.

A procedure called Faecal Microbiota Transplantation, which involves implanting healthy donor faecal matter into the infected bowel, has provided new hope after a recent study cured 81 per cent of patients, compared to 31 per cent using conventional methods.

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However procedure can be time consuming and expensive as doctors need to find a donor, screen them and prepare transplant material themselves.

Aberdeen University fourth year students James McIlroy and Matthew Bracchi have set up a social entreprise called EuroBiotix where they hope to replicate a bloodbank model to make the procedure accessible to NHS patients by 2016.

Mr McIlroy said: “We appreciate it’s not the most pleasant of topics but C. diff is a serious problem for sufferers and the NHS and we believe our idea is a serious potential solution, with recent trials showing FMT to be a very effective treatment method.

“It’s hard to get this treatment on the NHS because of the costs and logistical factors associated with screening a unique donor for every FMT. “Effectively we want to create a blood bank model but with donated healthy faecal microbiota instead of blood.”

Mr McIlroy came up with the idea while working on a dissertation on the role gut bacteria might play in obesity.

Mr McIlroy, chief executive of EuroBiotix, said: “The FMT procedure is normally carried out in the form of a colonoscopy, nasogastric/duodenal tube or a rectal enema to restore the bacterial balance.

“Donors would go through a rigorous questionnaire, physical examination and then would have to be screened for any infectious diseases.

“FMT is not regularly accessible for doctors to perform in the UK because the doctor needs to find a suitable donor, screen them for infectious diseases, and then prepare the transplant material themselves, which is time consuming and expensive.

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“Our vision at EuroBiotix is to expand access to FMT by providing screened ready-to-use faecal transplant preparations to clinicians working in the NHS.

“We’ve established a community interest company that wants to expand access to FMT and research involving the gut bacteria, by providing these screened samples that doctors can use at cheaper prices than they would if they were doing it themselves.”

It is hoped the ‘poo bank’ could improve the safety and quality of the procedure by introducing standardised safety protocols and could offer better data for clinical trials because material will be from the same donor.

Professor Rona Patey, heead of the Division of Medical and Dental Education at Aberdeen University, said: “We are very proud of James and Matthew’s commitment, professional approach and achievements and have been delighted to have been able to support them in their endeavours.

“They provide us with an outstanding example of the innovation and contribution that is already being made by the next generation of doctors.”