Weight-loss treatments of the future might involve just a little bit of poop — at least, if an upcoming study from Massachusetts General Hospital goes well. Researchers will soon recruit subjects for a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial where they’ll transfer fecal microbiota from thin people to overweight people.
Existing research supports a link between gut-microbe diversity and weight, and experts think gut microbes may influence digestion, fat storage, blood-sugar regulation, and response to hunger hormones. In one study, scientists took gut bacteria from fraternal twins, one obese and one lean, and transplanted them in microbe-free, otherwise healthy mice. The mice who got microbes from the obese twin gained more weight than those who got gut bugs from the lean twin.
Then there’s the case of a healthy woman whose Clostridium difficile infection was treated with a fecal transplant from her obese daughter. In the months after the procedure, she gained 34 pounds and was classified as obese for the first time in her life. Now, researchers will attempt to demonstrate that the reverse is true — that thin-person microbes could help an obese person lose weight — as soon as they can find people who are willing to ingest poop.
Researchers will measure everyone’s weight, body fat, and insulin sensitivity after three months, six months, and one year. They hypothesize that the skinny-person microbes will populate the subjects’ intestines and maybe, just maybe, lead to weight loss. If it works, they may be able to ID which bugs are responsible and create targeted treatments for obesity, which affects a full 35 percent of Americans. One small, disgusting-sounding step for man, one giant leap for mankind.