3. Feces transplants and new treatments

There are different ways to modify the microbiome in an attempt to improve health. There are probiotics and prebiotics, but the most radical method is a feces transplant from a healthy donor. This procedure has been proven effective in treating stubborn and potentially serious diarrhea caused by Clostridium Difficile.

Nevertheless, the procedure has many drawbacks: it is difficult to analyze the sample with certainty, it's nearly impossible to standardize it, and there are many differences in how patients tolerate it. In fact, one of the top experts in the field, Dr. Max Niewdorp of the Academic Medical Center in Amsterdam, doesn't hesitate to say, “Ten years from now we won't be doing feces transplants, we'll be using targeted drugs.” This means identifying the bacteria that are potentially beneficial and administering them in a controlled manner, surely as part of a cocktail.

This is the focus of work being done by Bernat Ollé, CEO of Compañía Vedanta Biosciences, to design drugs based on bacteria selected not empirically but rationally, based on their potential pharmacological properties.

What are their prospects? Which will be the first diseases treated in this way? According to Ollé and Niewdorp, the next step could be preventing certain infections and the damage caused to the microbiome by antibiotics. Perhaps after that we could improve pathologies like inflammatory intestinal disease. It will be more difficult and improbable to attack type-2 diabetes and particularly unrealistic to reverse neurological diseases like autism, with which the microbiome has also been associated. These are the levels in a theoretical pyramid in which each step now seems more hopeful and less sure than the previous one.