Facing the “Ick” factor

Whether we are talking about ants, insects or our other scientific model systems, scientists can be immune to what the common person would think of as “gross.” Bacteria in your bathroom or on Sunday-night leftovers may be somewhat less exciting than when they are a model system for your career, but how can we remove this “ick” factor when a widespread embrace of the organisms many people consider as unwelcome are actually beneficial to our health. Enter the topic of fecal transplants.

Fecal transplants are precisely what the mind imagines when thinking of the words “fecal” and “transplant.” Feces of a healthy individual are injected into the gut of an individual suffering from an intestinal infection, such as Clostridium difficile. The New York Times reported on Jan. 16, 2013 that such practices have been used since the times of the ancient Chinese and that recent studies show promising results that such transplants can offer a cure for infections that are normally unsuccessfully treated with antibiotics. In my opinion, this offers something more: fecal transplants offer an alternative to antibiotics in these cases, which could avoid future problems such as increasing virulence of anti-biotic resistant bacteria. Nature News reported that a study at the University of Amsterdam (led by gastroenterologist Jospert Keller) found that “faecal transplants were three to four times more likely to cure the infections than the antibiotic.”  Sounds like a natural alternative we have been sitting on for years.

The findings remind us all how important an open-mind is to understanding the subject of science and discovering new breakthroughs. Deeming something as gross or unclean could ignore its usefulness. Whatever we are studying, it is important to approach looking at systems in an unconventional light so that we can ignore any “ick” factor or labels which society has constructed and which can serve as barriers.

The research article was published by the New England Journal of Medicine and can be found here: http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1205037

Read more about this type of research on the NYT’s website here: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/17/health/disgusting-maybe-but-treatment-works-study-finds.html?ref=newenglandjournalofmedicine

The link to the Nature News article: http://www.nature.com/news/faecal-transplants-succeed-in-clinical-trial-1.12227


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