Faeces donors do it out of willingness not money - study

Healthy adults who have a good constitution and have a healthy heart are being called forth to donate samples of their faeces to science. The donors would be screened rigorously before they can be included and would be compensated modestly for their donations say researchers.

These donated faeces samples would be used for procedures like fecal transplants that are being used these days to treat infections such as those with Clostridium difficile. This infection is often difficult to treat and can be life threatening. The US FDA has approved fecal transplants as a last resort in C. difficile infections.

Fecal transplant pills. Image Credit: Marc Bruxelle / Shutterstock
Fecal transplant pills. Image Credit: Marc Bruxelle / Shutterstock

A new study by Canadian researchers from University of Alberta in Edmonton, looked at the motivations behind these donors – money or the good that could be doing to science. Their purpose was to understand the motivation and devise ways to recruit more donors. The study was presented at the Digestive Disease Week at Washington yesterday (5th June 2018).

The team recruited 802 people in the United States, Canada and England and provided them with an online questionnaire. They noted that most of the participants in the study were not afraid to go through the unpleasantness of collecting stool samples as well as the time needed to make the deposits of such samples at the collection centres that would need the samples at least thrice a week.

Despite being paid a remuneration, nearly half of all the donors stated that helping people was their main purpose in being part of this donation drive. One third were in it for the modest remuneration though. The compensation ranged from 20 to 30 Canadian dollars or $15.50 to $23 in American dollars per sample. The participants in the survey answered their 32 questionnaire survey and stated that they were willing to become stool donors.

Breanna McSweeney, who was the study’s lead author explained that explaining to people how their samples could help the patients could motivate them. Fecal transplants could benefit not only C difficile infected patients but also people with other bowel diseases such as ulcerative colitis.

There are currently stool banks around the US but they have a shortage of samples to meet the demands say researchers. Dr. Karen Wong, a co-author on the study said that the stool bank at Alberta for example often runs short of the demands. She said that donors are often contacted the day before the procedure to donate so that they have the sample ready for the procedure.

The donors need to apply at OpenBiome, a non-profit stool bank based in Boston to become stool donors. They then undergo screening tests and need to fill an online health questionnaire. If they are selected they need to face a clinical interview that asks about their health and their family histories. Then their blood samples and stool samples are tested for infections and other pathogens before they can be approved as a donor say researchers. They add that large number of volunteers are rejected at these testing stages.

Carolyn Edelstein, OpenBiome’s executive director said that only around 3 percent of the volunteers make it to become stool donors. She said that those who have allergies, family history of colon cancer, rectal cancer, infections, asthma, obesity etc. are all rejected. Those who have had a recent tattoo or have travelled to specific regions recently are also excluded she said. Once approved as donors, they are asked to make three sample donations per week for at least two months.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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