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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South Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon

One Way Fecal Microbiota Transplant May Work: Changing Bile Acids

Breifly Noted:

From MedPage Today: Fecal transplant success may depend on bile acid metabolism

An excerpt:

the transplants change patterns of bile acid metabolism in the gut, making the environment inhospitable to C. diff colonization.

In three studies reported at Digestive Disease Week (DDW) 2017, it was demonstrated that individuals with C. diff who respond to fecal transplant showed a different pattern of microbiota species composition compared with baseline and/or with those who fail to respond. But that’s not all: the responders also showed distinct, altered profiles of those elements involved in bile acid metabolism.

Vincent Van Gogh; Hopital Saint-Paul (1889)


Fecal Transplantation: “Frozen is as Good as Fresh”

Besides pointing out that someone could make $13,000 per year selling their stool, a recent Washington Post story summarized a JAMA study (JAMA. 2016;315(2):142-149. doi:10.1001/jama.2015.18098) which indicated that frozen stool works as well as fresh stool in treating Clostridium difficile infection.

In this study:

Design: Randomized, double-blind, noninferiority trial enrolling 232 adults with recurrent or refractory CDI, conducted between July 2012 and September 2014 at 6 academic medical centers in Canada.

Key finding: In the per-protocol population, the proportion of patients with clinical resolution was 83.5% for the frozen FMT group and 85.1% for the fresh FMT group

Washington Post Summary In fecal matter transplants, frozen is as good as fresh

Here’s an excerpt:

The new study, led by McMaster University’s Christine H. Lee and published Tuesday in JAMA, found that patients given donations that had been frozen for up to 30 days fared just as well as those given fresh samples…

Lee and her colleagues administered one or two FMT enemas to 178 patients, splitting them into two groups to compare freshly-harvested samples and ones that had been frozen and defrosted. Thirteen weeks later, 85 percent of the fresh patients were diarrhea-free. In the frozen group, the success rate reached 83.5 percent – a margin that allows Lee and her team to dub the treatment “noninferior.”

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Nutrition Symposium Georgia AAP (Part 2)

Last week I summarized an excellent talk by Ronald Kleinman.  For me, I had never heard such a concise and definitive rebuttal of the claims of those fearful of food biotechnology.  There were three other lectures at the symposium.  These three lectures covered areas that are well-known to pediatric gastroenterologists but less familiar to general pediatricians.  The full set of slides are available at the Georgia AAP Symposium Website.

Jeff Lewis had an excellent lecture that tied together gluten and our microbiome: Gluten – Eat not, suffer not and Microbiome 101: Waste Not, Want Not

After reviewing celiac disease and other wheat-related disorders (eg. wheat intolerance syndrome, and wheat allergy), he summarized a great deal of information regarding the human microbiome and which factors influence this. In addition, he had the opportunity to briefly present data from his research on fecal microbiota transplantation (for C diff) and its influence on the microbiome over time. Here are a couple of slides from his talk:


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Key points:

  • “It is hard to communicate science to families. It is a huge challenge for us.”
  • Dermatitis herpetiformis (rare in kids), a rash associated with celiac disease, can be treated with Dapsone. This rash has caused such severe itching that there are cases of suicide that have been reported.
  • For celiac disease, Dr. Lewis recommends testing of 1st degree relatives but this needs to be after gluten exposure and before gluten-free diet.
  • Wheat allergy reviewed. Skin test positivity does not prove that you are allergic to food. IgG based testing is worthless –it means you have been exposed to a food, but is not an indication of food allergy.
  • Nonceliac gluten sensitivity (aka. wheat intolerance syndrome): need to test for celiac first. No tests/biomarker that can confirm this diagnostic. This appears to be a true disease; there is a small subset of patients who develop symptoms with a double-blind challenge.
  • Microbiome –more bacterial DNA in us than human DNA. New organisms –archaea kingdom.  Now a specimen of a person’s microbiome can be run for <$50.
  • Microbiome terms: Richness, Diversity, and Dysbiosis. Many diseases are associated with dysbiosis (obesity, IBD), but there is a ‘chicken and the egg’ problem. Is dysbiosis a causal factor or a secondary factor?
  • Xyloglucans (in lettuce) –not broken down by humans and affected by gut bacteria.
  • Mice given stool from fat mice or fat person become heavy.

Rejected! Most Stool is Not Good Enough for FMT

I found a recent study (Paramsothy S. Inflamm Bowel Dis 2015; 21: 1600-06) interesting in that it shows how few individuals would qualify as long-term stool donors for fecal microbiata transplantation (FMT).  In previous discussions with colleagues, I’ve thought that getting paid to donate stool would be a pretty sweet deal.

In this study, the authors examined 116 potential donors.  The donor screening protocols and donor inclusion/exclusion criteria were similar to many others (outlined in their Tables 1, 2 and 3 & noted in previous gutsandgrowth blog post on FMT). What the researchers found is that 47 prospective donors declined to participate after learning the requirements and only 12 of the remaining 69 (17%) remained eligible after concluding screening; this represents only 10% of the initial cohort.  A large proportion of healthy asymptomatic donors failed stool testing –40% of those tested. The next most common reasons for rejection were medication comorbidities (n=13) or risk factors for Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (n=6).

Bottomline: Now, I realize how these stool donors should be justifiably proud of their carefully-balanced uncontaminated microbiome.  The difficulty in identifying suitable donors further reinforces the value of human stool banks.

Briefly noted:

Vandenplas Y, et al. “Fecal Microbiota Transplantation: Just a Fancy Trend? JPGN 2015; 61: 4-7.  Brief overview which includes screening protocol used in Brussels.  One of the recommendations is to conserve a sample of the donated stool for >30 years.

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Disclaimer: These blog posts are for educational purposes only. Specific dosing of medications/diets (along with potential adverse effects) should be confirmed by prescribing physician/nutritionist.  This content is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment provided by a qualified healthcare provider. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a condition.

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Cumberland Island -Main Road

Keeping Up with Clostridium Difficile

It is difficult to keep up with all of the relevant publications regarding Clostridium difficile–there are so many.  This likely reflects its emergence as a frequent and important pathogen.

Recent references:

  1. Sandberg KC et al. “Disproportionate Rise in Clostridium difficile Associated Hospitalizations Among US Youth with Inflammatory Bowel Disease, 19978-2011.” JPGN 2015; 60: 486-92 (editorial 421-22).
  2. Leffler DA, Lamont JT. NEJM 2015; 372: 1539-48.

In the first study, the researchers note that there has been a 5-fold increase in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) hospitalizations with concomitant Clostridium difficile infection (CDI).  Whereas, the hospitalization without CDI increased 2-fold.  Associated with this 5-fold increase in hospitalizations, there were increased costs and longer length of stays.  Interestingly, IBD patients with CDI had a  lower likelihood (OR 0.31) of colectomy in this study. This epidemiology yields more questions than answers.  Certainly, a significant fraction of this increase is due to the use of more sensitive PCR-based assay. In addition, many of these patients may not be symptomatic due to CDI; it can be difficult to determine if IBD symptoms are due to IBD or due to CDI. Even treatment with antibiotics like vancomycin does not fully differentiate as the response could be nonspecific.

In the second review, severe useful points were made.

Risk factors:

  • Antibiotics –this remains most important risk factor
  • Older age (especially if >65 years)
  • Possible acid suppression -not confirmed in some studies when adjusting for coexisting conditions
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Immunosuppression
  • Chronic kidney disease


  • Use of DNA assays has allowed for detection of “low levels of toxigenic organisms of uncertain clinical significance.”  Thus, these assays may detect clinically-insignificant infections.
  • Endoscopy is rarely needed, but sometimes helpful in ovelapping conditions like coexistent CDI from IBD
  • Negative PCR assay has a negative predictive value of “more than 95% in average-risk groups.”
  • Testing and treating persons with solid stools is not recommended


  • Probiotics “have an uncertain effect on the prevention of C difficile infection, and their routine use for the prevention or treatment of active infection is not recommended.”  The authors note that initial favorable studies of antibiotic-associated diarrhea were underpowered and that more recent studies have shown mixed results.  In studies of patients with unusually high rates of CDI, probiotics were shown to confer benefit.


  • Metronidazole and vancomycin remain 1st line treatments.
  • Fidaxomicin use has been limited due to expense, but has been shown to reduce recurrence of CDI in those who do not have the b1/NAP1/027 strain.
  • Alternative antimicrobials, including rifaximin, nitazoxanide and others, are “not recommended except in cases of unacceptable adverse effects.”
  • For recurrent infection, 1st line approach is retreatment with either metronidazole & vancomycin. Second recurrences are often treated with fidaxomicin or tapered vancomycin course.
  • Fecal microbial transplantation –noted to be highly effective and safe as salvage therapy. The precise components that are important are uncertain; however, “the phyla Bactteroidetes and Firmicutes are thought to comprise critical components.”  “More work is neede to understand the possible role for fecal microbial transplantation for primary CDI”

Bottomline: CDI remains an important pathogen and significantly complicates the management of IBD.

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No Habla Appendicitis

Before today’s blog, I wanted to state that our physicians now can treat Clostridium difficile with fecal microbiota transplant (would have been more relevant to yesterday’s blog: “Gut Microbiome”) :

GI Care for Kids is one of the few places in the region to offer this capability for children (thanks to Jeff Lewis for working to navigate the logistics/regulatory burdens).

Today’s blog: Though physicians make efforts to combat language barriers with translators, the personal connection between physicians and patients is undoubtedly weakened in those with limited English proficiency LEP).  Recently, one of my emergency room colleagues explained that he had ordered a CT scan on a young man in part due to his hispanic ethnicity and concern that this would lead him to overlook a diagnosis of appendicitis.  According to a recent study, my emergency room colleague was right –hispanic ethnicity and language barriers increased the risk for appendiceal perforation (J Pediatr 2014; 164: 1286-91).

The researchers performed a secondary analysis of a prospective, cross-sectional, multi center study of children aged 3-18 years who presented with abdominal pain/possible appendicitis (2009-2010) at 10 tertiary care pediatric emergency departments in the U.S.


  • Of the 2590 patients enrolled, 1001 (38%) had appendicitis.
  • Hispanics with LEP had an odds ratio of 1.44 of having appendiceal perforation.  In addition, these patients were less likely to undergo advanced imaging (OR 0.64)

Bottomline: Patients/families who speak English are more likely to communicate the severity of their medical problem.  Those with limited English proficiency are at increased risk for complications and this extends beyond perforation with appendicitis.

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