Fecal transplant discovery could improve care for dangerous infections

Dec. 16, 2021

New research from the University of Virginia School of Medicine School sheds light on why a fecal transplant can benefit patients with dangerous recurrent C. difficile infections – and suggests a way to improve patient outcomes.

C. difficile infection causes life-threatening diarrhea, and it often takes hold in patients in hospitals and nursing homes as a result of long-term antibiotic use. Doctors have known that fecal transplants – literally transplanting fecal material from a healthy person into the sick – can improve C. difficile outcomes, but they haven’t fully understood why. The new UVA research offers important answers.

Researchers found that the transplants increased the presence of IL-25, an important agent of the immune system, in the patients’ colons. The cytokine serves as a vital link in the communication chain that controls our body’s immune responses. This increase in IL-25 was accompanied by a decrease in damaging tissue inflammation.

The transplants also increased the diversity of the microbes that naturally live in our colons, the researchers found. These microorganisms have increasingly been appreciated as essential for good health. 

The researchers conclude that the changes triggered by fecal transplants, including beneficial changes in the activity of certain genes, bolster the ability of the immune system to battle recurrent C. difficile infections. This ultimately helps patients heal.

The scientists believe that doctors may be able to enhance the benefits of fecal transplants by using other means to promote IL-25 in patients battling recurrent C. Difficile. The findings are published in the scientific journal mSphere.

UVA Health Release