Hong Kong faecal donor recruitment drive draws 10,000 applications to Asia Microbiota Bank

Samples can contribute to treatment of intestinal disease, but stringent tests mean few donors will eventually qualify

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 09 March, 2017, 9:02am
UPDATED : Friday, 10 March, 2017, 3:35pm

Hong Kong has received a “record” number of applications to donate faeces for the treatment of intestinal diseases, but a researcher says more scientific work is required to determine the most suitable donors.

In a month, some 10,000 applications were submitted to the Asia Microbiota Bank, a social enterprise that collects and provides stool samples to organisations and medical institutions for research and treatment.

Bacteria preserved from faecal samples can be used to treat patients suffering from a recurrent gut infection called Clostridium difficile, which can cause serious dehydration and death.

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The bank, which claimed to be the first storage facility of its kind in the region, said their donor recruitment campaign drew a “record” number of applications, showing that Hong Kong was “an ideal city for social engagement around public health”.

About 50 to 100 grams of faeces are taken from a healthy donor. The sample is diluted with sterile saline and filtered to preserve the bacteria.

In a process called faecal microbiota transplantation (FMT), the bacteria is then administered to patients either by a nasal tube, a colonoscopy or through a spray.

Transplanting bacteria from a healthy person has been proven to help restore the balance of microbial ecology in the digestive tracts of sick patients.

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Dr Ng Siew-chien, a professor in medicine and therapeutics in Chinese University of Hong Kong’s institute of digestive disease, agreed that an establishment of a stool bank would be helpful in the long run to ensure readily available treatment for patients.

However, she said more scientific research was needed to determine what constituted an optimal donor, whether FMT could work in treating other diseases, as well as its long term impact on the human body.

“It’s still a developing area, but [the results] have already been very remarkable,” Ng said.

Some 50 patients who suffering from recurrent infections of Clostridium difficile were successfully treated with the method, according to Ng.

It’s still a developing area, but [the results] have already been very remarkable
Dr Ng Siew-chien, Chinese University of Hong Kong

The procedure has a success rate of more than 85 per cent, compared to antibiotics which has a success rate of about 25 per cent.

It was unclear how many of the 10,000 applications would be able to pass a rigorous screening process.

Studies in Australia and the United States showed that only an average of 5 per cent or less of applicants cleared all tests.

A donor should be between 18 to 50 years old, have a healthy digestive system, a Body Mass Index below 30 and no record of medication or antibiotics intake in the past three months, according to the bank’s website.

Applicants are then required to complete a health questionnaire and pass a blood and stool screening test.

Qualified donors are compensated with HK$200 per donation they make to the stool bank.

Chinese University, where Ng conducts her research, has an independent stool bank with three regular donors.

Previous studies have shown the treatment to be effective in tackling cases of obesity, other intestinal disorders and colon inflammation in experiments on mice, but there has not yet been any conclusive evidence found for humans.