‘Crapsules’ spell the end for recurrent Clostridium difficile infection

Faecal microbiota transplantation (FMT) has shown remarkable efficacy for treating recurrent C. difficile infection (CDI). In fact, the randomized controlled trial to evaluate the effectiveness of FMT for recurrent CDI versus treatment with vancomycin was terminated early because FMT was so obviously superior, with a cure rate of more than 90% (see Figure 1, below).

Figure 1: Faecal microbiota transplant for recurrent CDI. Patients with recurrent CDI randomised to FMT (n=16), vancomycin (n=12) or vancomycin + bowel lavage (n=13). Colour scheme chosen carefully.van nood_blog

FMT is crude in every sense. You take donor stool, put it in a blender, sieve it, and deliver it to the recipient’s gut. I had the pleasure of watching a colleague prepare a dose of FMT in our laboratory in London last week. It really is a simple preparation. The delivery of the FMT to the recipient’s gut isn’t so much tricky as it is unpleasant for the recipient, with a tube required for the procedure.

So, could you deliver FMT orally? The answer according to a recent JAMA study is yes. The team from Boston in the US developed specially formulated capsules (aka ‘crapsules’) designed to deliver the FMT to the correct part of the gut. Of the 20 patients with recurrent CDI given a short 2 day course of ‘crapsules’, 14 (70%) resolved. The 6 non-responders were given a second course and 4 of these resolved, resulting in an overall resoluation rate of 90% (18/20). The quality of life benefits are obvious, and spelled out in the reduction in number of daily bowel movements (Figure 2, below). Although this wasn’t an RCT, so the patients knew they were getting the FMT and there could have been a placebo effect, the similarity in the rate of resolution between this study and the van Nood study (Figure 1) is striking.

Figure 2: Median number of bowel movements for 20 patients suffering from recurrent CDI treated with ‘crapsules’.Youngster blog

Oral FMT via ‘crapsules’ takes away the unpleasantness of the delivery for the recipient (if they can get over the ‘gross’ factor). But it doesn’t solve the lingering safety concerns associated with the procedure. We simply don’t have the tools to screen donor stool for problems we don’t yet know about. The experience from delivering hepatitis C virus to haemophiliacs in the 1980s in contaminated blood products from donors is salutary, and close to my heart since one of my good friends is still suffering the consequences of this. But, this risk has to be balanced against the urgent need of patients becoming increasingly desperate with recurrent CDI. If I had recurrent CDI, I’d be joining the queue for FMT.

The real solution to this problem is synthetic FMT. Lots of people are working on this at the moment – check our some of the work by Trevor Lawley on this. I am pretty certain that a simple bacterial cocktail will not make an effective synthetic FMT. There’s huge microbial and non-microbial diversity in the gut contents which will need to be replicated somehow. Clearly, some of this will be redundant, but it will take quite some time to pick through the constituent parts to derive an effective synthetic FMT. But I’m certain it will happen, and probably over the next decade.

Until then, ‘crapsules’ offer an alternative, effective way to deliver FMT, which is remarkably effective for resolving recurrent CDI. But recurrent CDI is just the start. There’s a host of other conditions that could potentially benefit from FMT. It may even be that ‘crapsules’ become a ‘new statin’: “a crapsule a day keeps the bad bugs away”?

Article citationYoungster I, Russell GH, Pindar C, Ziv-Baran T, Sauk J, Hohmann EL. Oral, Capsulized, Frozen Fecal Microbiota Transplantation for Relapsing Clostridium difficile Infection. JAMA 2014; in press.

Selective Digestive Decontamination (SDD) is dead; long live faecal microbiota transplantation (FMT)


Ok, so the title may be a little premature, since this blog relates to a study with a sample size of exactly one. However, I do think it spells the beginning of the end for Selective Digestive Decontamination (SDD), especially when applied to suppress gut colonization with antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

A number of groups have looked at using SDD to ‘decolonise’ carriers of multidrug-resistant Gram-negative bacteria such as CRE. In one study, 20 CRE colonized patients in each arm given gentamicin + polymyxin (SDD arm) or placebo (Control arm). The results were rather modest (see chart below). Plus, SDD has substantial downsides in terms of the potential for developing further antibiotic resistance, and ‘collateral’ damage to the gut microbiota.

Figure: Modest impact of SDD to ‘decolonise’ the gastrointestinal tract of CRE carriers.

Saide-Oldes CRE decol

I’ve been waiting for some data on the effectiveness of faecal microbiota transplantation (FMT) to decolonise carriers of antibiotic resistant bacteria for some time. A case report at ID Week related how the ordeal of a 13 year old girl was ended by a faecal microbiota transplantation. After months of persistent colonization and infection, the impact of a single dose of FMT was startling: CRE carriage was eliminated and there was no further bacterial infection.

One of the push-backs against using FMT more regularly is that it’s a crude (in every sense) and labour-intensive procedure compared with an antibiotic capsule. But that was before the invention of ‘crapsules’ (aka oral FMT). Another ID Week abstract reports the successful delivery of oral FMT using crapsules. (And it’s amazing what great dinner party conversation ‘crapsules’ makes. Try it – you’ll see.)

So, I think it’s time for a cluster randomized trial to compare the impact of SDD and FMT; my money is on FMT!

Image: Barbara Krawcowicz.