Changes in the way that humans live and eat have resulted in tremendous alterations in the gut microbiome, especially over the past few decades. These changes have been linked to increased rates of asthma, allergies, diseases of the digestive system, type 2 diabetes, and other conditions. In an opinion article published June 30 in the journal Trends in Molecular Medicine, a team from Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) proposes that we can combat these trends by having individuals bank samples of their own gut microbiota when they are young and healthy for potential use later in life in an autologous fecal microbiota transplant (FMT).
“The idea of ‘rewilding’ the human microbiome has taken off in recent years and has been hotly debated from medical, ethical, and evolutionary perspectives,” says corresponding author Yang-Yu Liu, an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard and an Associate Scientist in the Channing Division of Network Medicine at BWH. “It is still unknown if people in industrialized societies can gain some health benefit by restoring their microbiome to an ancestral state. In this paper, we proposed a way to rejuvenate the human gut microbiome.”
FMTs using donor stool have shown benefit for treating some conditions, primarily infections with Clostridioides difficile (C. diff), which affect about half a million people and kill about 29,000 in the United States every year. However, one limitation of using donor stool is variability in the host’s response, likely due to genetic and environmental differences between the donor and host.
Efforts in Yang’s lab focus on understanding the ecological dynamics and organizational principles of the human microbiome to inform the design of microbiome-based therapeutics. OpenBiome, a nonprofit stool bank based in Somerville, Massachusetts, is the first stool bank to offer an option for individuals to bank their own stool for future treatment of C. diff infection. Yang and his colleagues looked at whether this approach might be feasible on a large scale for many other diseases.
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