'Vladimir Pootin' To Poop Pills: Saga Of First Stool Bank Goes On

Coming up in the next issue of The New Yorker: "The Excrement Experiment," a sweeping disquisition on the history of fecal transplants for treating intestinal ills. It includes the delightful tidbit that at the nation's first stool bank, begun in an MIT lab and now located in Medford, donors are given nicknames like "Winnie the Poo" and "Vladimir Pootin."

We posted the back-story of the stool bank, by Gabrielle Emanuel, here in April: "MIT Lab Hosts Nation's First Stool Bank, But Will It Survive?"

The existential threat to the stool bank loomed from the FDA, which said it considered stool to be a drug, and thus potentially subject to regulations rigorous enough to send the costs of fecal transplants soaring and probably kill the bank. More recently, the agency has seemed to signal that it will allow some fecal transplants — at least for now.

The New Yorker story reports that orders for OpenBiome's stool supplies have been growing at 18 percent a month for the last year, spurring complaints from companies that are working on competing products — pills and enemas.

The prospects for poop pill prospects are looking promising, The New Yorker reports, and the stool bank is involved in those efforts as well:

Even if OpenBiome were to stop shipping stool to hospitals, it could presumably continue to operate as a resource for researchers. When I visited in October, there was a tray of shiny white capsules on [co-founder Mark] Smith’s desk—“poop pills that we’ve been working on,” he explained. Doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital had just announced the results of a study showing that capsules were as effective as colonoscopes for treating C. difficile, and the field was abuzz with the news, since, as Smith pointed out, “everyone would rather swallow a pill.” He had hit on a way to improve on the doctors’ methods: lining capsules with cocoa butter, which is solid at room temperature, thus insuring that they won’t disintegrate prematurely—on the shelf or in someone’s mouth.

Meanwhile, for Boston-area residents interested in becoming the next Vladimir Pootin, reported last month that the bank, which now ships to fecal samples to 122 hospitals, is paying $40 "per dump:"

Are you under 50 years old, willing to make daily trips to Medford, and have regular bowel movements? You, my friend, could be earning $40 a day—just for pooping.

And for the more altruistically motivated:

“These donors may seem very mild-mannered and think going to the bathroom is a humble thing,” said Smith, “but each sample they bring in can treat four or five patients.”

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Carey Goldberg Editor, CommonHealth
Carey Goldberg is the editor of WBUR's CommonHealth section.



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