Why a nonprofit is willing to pay thousands for your poop

A Massachusetts-based  nonprofit is collecting poop at $40 a sample to treat a bacterial infection that is currently only mitigated by antibiotics, the Washington Post reported.

OpenBiome is collecting human feces to treat Clostridium difficile, or C. difficle, which is a bacterium that causes inflammation of the colon, known as colitis.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a person can become infected with the disease after touching items or surfaces contaminated with feces then touching their mouths or mucous membranes.

The bacterium can be found in feces, but scientists at OpenBiome have found that introducing healthy fecal matter into the gut of these patients can exterminate C. difficile. They were inspired to do so after a friend suffered from C. difficile and experienced limited success with antibiotics— the only alternative treatment option— which are only effective at treating the condition if a continuous regimen is followed.

Donors supply their feces in person at the company’s headquarters in Medford. Frozen stool samples are then administered to patients who have the infection, which can cause gastrointestinal distress. Patients with C. difficile receive the healthy fecal matter via endoscopy, nasal tubes or swallowed capsules.  

The Post reported that the nonprofit has shipped about 2,000 treatments to 185 hospitals around the U.S.

"We get most of our donors to come in three or four times a week, which is pretty awesome," co-founder Mark Smith told the Post. "You're usually helping three or four patients out with each sample, and we keep track of that and let you know."

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OpenBiome is accepting new donors, but donating stool for the cause requires a rigorous screening process. While 1,000 donors have applied, only about 4 percent have been able to donate. Participants must undergo medical questioning and stool testing, according to the Post. The screening also can cost up to $5,000.

"It's harder to become a donor than it is to get into MIT," Smith, who got his PhD in microbiology from the school, joked to the Post.

Many of the current participants are students at Tufts University, while others come from the gym next door to the OpenBiome office, Smith said.

The company offers a $50 bonus per sample if donors come into the office five times a week— which translates to $250 a week or $13,000 a year.

"Everyone thinks it's great that they're making money doing such an easy thing," co-founder Carolyn Edelstein told the Post. "But they also love to hear us say, 'Look, your poop just helped this lady who's been sick for nine years go to her daughter's graduation.'"

Smith said the company may one day use donated fecal matter to treat other conditions related to gut microbiomes, but he said that just because autism and obesity are associated with gut flora doesn’t prove they can be treated with fecal transplants.

"There's a lot of promise in other conditions," Smith told the Post, "but also a lot of hype. Treating C. difficile is a bit less sexy, but that's the one area where we know this works."

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