Imagine it’s a sunny Saturday and you’re on your way to the bank to make a deposit. So far so normal, except this is no ordinary bank, and no ordinary deposit – the bank is actually a poop bank, and the deposit? Well, it’s your poop.
In an opinion article published in the journal Trends in Molecular Medicine, researchers propose this “poop-banking” become a reality. They suggest that we should all make a trip to the poop bank when we’re young and healthy and leave a stinky sample of our gut microbiota, which we may need to “withdraw” for use later in life.
You may well wonder how exactly your own poop could benefit you when you’re old and crusty, and, honestly, we’re right there with you. But, it turns out it could come in handy if you ever need a fecal transplant, which you might, given that the researchers also say they could potentially be used to treat a whole host of diseases.
“Autologous [fecal microbiota transplants] have the potential to treat autoimmune diseases like asthma, multiple sclerosis, inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, obesity, and even heart disease and aging,” co-author Scott T. Weiss said in a statement.
“Conceptually, the idea of stool banking for autologous [fecal microbiota transplant] is similar to when parents bank their baby’s cord blood for possible future use,” corresponding author Yang-Yu Liu added. “However, there is greater potential for stool banking, and we anticipate that the chance of using stool samples is much higher than for cord blood.”
Fecal transplants generally involve the transfer of fecal microbiota from one individual to another. The idea is to “rejuvenate the [recipient’s] human gut microbiome” by introducing a healthy horde of microbes. In the past, they’ve shown promise in treating COVID-19, reducing symptoms of autism in children, and treating mental health conditions. Various mouse studies have also suggested fecal transplants could reverse certain hallmarks of aging.
In humans, they are primarily used to treat Clostridioides difficile infections and irritable bowel disease.
The problem with this transfer of microbes from one individual to another is there are often compatibility issues between donors and recipients, due to genetic and environmental differences between the two. To combat this, the authors of the new study suggest removing the middle man and transplanting fecal microbes from the patient themself.
Which is where the poop bank comes in. People’s stool samples could be collected when they’re young and disease-free and stored in a cryopreservation facility in case they might one day be needed.
Such facilities already exist: OpenBiome, based in Somerville, Massachusetts, became the first stool bank to offer the service for treatment of C. diff infection when it opened in 2012.
As good/gross as it all sounds, there are some practical issues to be considered.
“Autologous transplants would naturally avoid or at least mitigate donor-recipient compatibility issues, but a major disadvantage of autologous transplants is the need for long-term cryopreservation of stool samples, typically requiring liquid nitrogen storage,” said co-author Shanlin Ke. Further research is needed to determine optimal storage, resuscitation, and cultivation methods.“
There is also the issue of cost, which will likely mean the system is not accessible to everyone.
But, if these hurdles can be overcome, all of our poop bank dreams could one day become a reality. In light of their article, the researchers hope there will be increased support for the use of autologous fecal transplants in the treatment of various autoimmune diseases.
“We hope this paper will prompt some long-term trials of autologous [fecal microbiota transplants] to prevent disease,” Weiss concluded.