Tuesday, 3 June 2014
Certain therapeutic approaches may be shocking when we first learn about them. The idea of using leeches for any medical treatment certainly sounds counter-intuitive, mostly because of its very high yuck factor of the damn things. And yet, these antipathetic invertebrates have been used for practically ever by members of the medical corpus, and an archaic word for a physician in English is leech. Even setting aside the medieval principle of the four humours (justifying the use of a blood-sucking animal, helping reduce the level of blood when it is overabundant relative to phlegm, yellow bile and black bile), leeches secrete anticoagulants which even today work wonders in the treatment of people who had a finger severed and reattached (or even a nose)!
Another approach whose basis could only be charitably defined as dubious is fecal bacteriotherapy, which can be summarily described as poop grafting. More accurately, it is a technique that replaces an intestinal bacteriome that has been thrown off-kilter by some factor or other, resulting in nefarious effects, by a one more closely resembling that of the patient before they were ill.
Oddly enough, this has been done with animals for quite a long while. It is only recently that we have started truly appreciating what stool transplant could do for human health. It has had, among other effects, a spectacular rate of success in dealing with hard-to-treat infections with Clostridium difficile, and this is good news indeed as this opportunistic invader has grown more and more resistant to anbtibiotherapy as time went by. (Resistant C. difficile nosocomial infections in hospitals have become a big public health issue in recent years).
The human body contains a vast number of cells, but roughly one in ten is an actual human cell. The bacterial population we carry with us (what is sometimes referred to as the bacteriome) outnumber our cells by an order of magnitude! Is it any wonder that our health would depend in large measure on the harmonious relationship between our body and these trillions of partners? If we consider the human body, bugs and all, as an ecosystem, we'll have a good idea of the importance of maintaining our homeostasis. And just like any good ecosystem will contain bacteria, fungi and other creepy-crawlies that play a crucial role for the welfare of all, so does it go for us.