Thinking Clearly About Fecal Microbiota Transplantation & Hepatic Encephalopathy

An intriguing open-label randomized clinical trial (JS Bajaj et al. Hepatology 2017; 66: 1727-38) showed that fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT) was helpful in hepatic encephalopathy.

Background: It is well-recognized that changing bacteria flora can be beneficial in patients with hepatic encephalopathy (HE) associated with cirrhosis.  This has been shown with prior treatments with both lactulose and rifaximin.  It is clear that FMT can improve microbial dysbiosis, particularly in patients with Clostridium difficile.  In this study, the authors randomized 20 patients to either standard of care (SOC) or to SOC & FMT (single enema) with a 5-month follow-up. SOC patients received lactulose and rifaximin.

Key findings:

  • No FMT patients and 5 SOC patients developed further HE
  • Cognition improve in the FMT, but not the SOC, group
  • FMT was associated with increased microbial diversity

Since this was a small study, a bigger trial with longer follow-up is needed.

My take: This intriguing study suggests that FMT, or similar more selected modification of bacterial flora, could be helpful in reducing hepatic encephalopathy among patients with cirrhosis.

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