Usually, you knock back pills packed with drugs; cocktails of chemicals which have been painstakingly proven to help make you better. Soon, though, you might be swallowing tablets filled with something you might not expect: bacteria.
Of course, everyone knows that not all bacteria is bad, especially if you're a big yogurt eater. But you might not realise that some bacteria are so useful that they can actually be used to fight off diseases.
Indeed, that's exactly what a company called Seres Health believes, according to Technology Review. It's been working on a bacteria pill for two years, and now it's ready to test it in patients. The tricky thing is, there's usually a massive variation in the microbes living in different peoples' guts, which means that the company plans to use molecular analysis to understand exactly what bacteria are required to do good. Technology Review explains:
In recent years, large-scale studies by the National Institutes of Health and others have shown that the healthy human body is home to 10,000 or so species of microbes — outnumbering human cells 10 to one. At the same time, medical researchers have shown that the microbiome can affect health, and that swapping bacteria can cure gastrointestinal infections and potentially treat conditions such as inflammation and obesity...
The company will examine the differences between microbiomes in healthy patients and those with a particular condition... [W]hen considering how to rebalance an unhealthy microbiome, Seres Health researchers will look at which functional roles of microörganisms are out of balance and then try to restore balance by delivering microbes capable of producing or regulating those functions. If successful, Seres Health could create a new kind of medicine.
This is a new and different mode of treatment, that takes advantage of the fact that molecular analysis is now fairly straightforward to provide tailored health improvement. The company, understandably, hasn't let on what kinds — or even how many — bacteria it plans to use, though it does say it's trying to keep the number low.
Regardless, it's a step on from other, current bacterial treatments — such as faecal transplants for C. Difficile — which are less rigorously tuned for patients. In essence, they're a try-it-and-see treatment, unlike the tailored technique that Seres Health seeks to use. In fact, Seres admits that it is working on a C. Difficile treatment of its own — so suffers may not have to face up to the taboo of poop transplants for much longer. Here's hoping. [Technology Review]