If you’re a fellow hot girl like me, then you probably have gut issues. In fact, one of the resolutions I made to myself for the blossoming year that is 2022, alongside practising decolonised yoga, was to prioritise my gut health. More and more, we are discovering how truly important gut health is to our overall well-being—from immune disorders to mental health, gut health seems to rule it all. Now, there’s an interesting new solution to the problem…
The Guardian has unveiled an exclusive report on research from BiomeBank, which is located in the heart of Adelaide, Australia’s suburbs and describes itself as a “clinical stage biotechnology company developing a ‘Pipeline’ of live biotherapeutic products to treat disease.” It aims to achieve this mission through the restoration of the gut microbiome. Though there are infinite health issues that can occur from an unhealthy gut, BiomeBanks’s main target is ‘Clostridioides difficile’—a bacteria that infects the digestive tract causing symptoms from diarrhoea to life-threatening conditions like sepsis.
But guess what? If you are already lucky enough to have a good gut, then you’re what has been described as a “unicorn” and there are scientists who want your poo. Yes, you read that right.
“The transfer of healthy stool into the gastrointestinal tract of an unhealthy recipient has [previously] been proven to treat people with intestinal conditions,” The Guardian wrote. Now, as research continues and more is known—the possibilities for medicinal treatment continue to expand. Scientists at BiomeBank are developing a “super stool” (derived from the faecal donations from those “unicorns” we mentioned) which will be turned into a ‘poo pellet’ you can eat. Consuming such a treatment would seek to replicate the unicorns’ intestinal abilities.
That is the researchers’ star ingredient and they are currently on the hunt for more healthy gut unicorns. Their facility hosts a “special donor room”—let’s not mince words here, it’s a toilet—where elite faecal donations are given. These are then deposited into the company’s stool bank, ready to be used to develop poo transplants. Donations are placed into a “secret sauce”—it all sounds delightful, doesn’t it?—which enables their growth as well as the isolation of bacterial strains. BiomeBank then collects all found strains and categorises them for future endeavours.
Not just anyone can be a donor though. You have to fit the bill, unicorn. According to Doctor Emily Tucker, BiomeBank’s head of donor screening, there’s a wealthy list of demands needed to become a donor. “They have to be healthy, obviously. They have to be screened for infections. A detailed history of their medical, travel and antibiotic history is taken,” The Guardian disclosed.
Molecular biology expert at the University of Auckland, Doctor Justin O’Sullivan, told the BBC in 2019 about his investigations into super poo donors, “We see transplants from super donors achieve clinical remission rates of perhaps double the remaining average… Our hope is that if we can discover how this happens, then we can improve the success of faecal transplantation and even trial it for new microbiome-associated conditions like Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis and asthma.”
And it looks like BiomeBank is well on its way. Thomas Mitchell, the company’s chief executive, detailed that its first successful solution involved a microbial therapy that extracted the necessary bacteria and then developed it into a capsule to be taken orally. The biotechnology company’s treatment has already been trialled and rolled out in certain hospitals in the country.
“Then there’s the second generation—a replication. Think of the unicorns as Adam and Eve types, but their genomic sequences can be reproduced. You can grow them. Isolate them. Identify them, name them, put them in a library, and gradually build up knowledge about what each strand can do,” The Guardian explained. Basically, if a bacteria strain is a solution to a person’s specific issue, it can be isolated and scaled into a bespoke pill for that patient.
Chief medical officer and director Sam Costello warned that research is vital to tackle the “microbial extinction event” taking place across the globe—particularly in the West. Though historically human’s had a diverse range of microbiomes, things changed as the consumption of highly processed foods and lack of exposure to certain bacteria rose.
Don’t worry just yet though, you don’t need to be rushing to take poo pills any time soon. There are far simpler ways to heal a gut if you’re only having minor issues. Of course, if you are experiencing seriously worrying symptoms, it is best to confer with a medical professional.
“To have what we understand to be a healthy microbiota, where the microbes present are associated with healthy conditions and those that aren’t present are associated with unhealthy conditions, we already know what you should do,” Professor Felice Jacka, director of Deakin University’s Food and Mood Centre, told The Guardian.
Though an avid supporter of the ‘super stool’ drive, she advised diversifying your diet is what you need, “Eat lots of plants, different types of plants, different-coloured plants and throw in some fermented foods.” In countries across the world, gut microbiome health outshines the West. To name but a few fermented food options, try adding kimchi, sauerkraut, or miso to your diet and of course, the star of the show—fibre.
Jacka mentioned however, that often when those with a predominantly Western diet begin this journey, their existing gut bacteria is so weak and deficient that reintroducing fibre will cause some issues like stomach pains, bloating and gas. This is because the existing Western diet is rooted in a lack of diversity and saturated with endless processed fats and sugars—in actual fact, an estimated 75 per cent of global food production consists of only 12 plant groups and five animal species.
When individuals experience such symptoms like the ones mentioned above, they are often scared off of fibrous foods under the, perhaps, mistaken assumption that they have irritable bowel syndrome or an intolerance to gluten, said Jacka. In fact, what these problems might be showing you is that you don’t have a good gut microbiome. The reintroduction should be a slow one (especially if you rarely consume fibre), ease your way into it and increase the fibre in your diet gradually, she advised.
If I ask you to think about what the future will bring, what do you think of? Let me guess, flying cars and Zuckerberg’s very own Metaverse? No? Okay, how about this—weekly trips to space and smartphone zombies crawling around? I’m getting closer, right? Well, put this thought on hold for a moment, because it seems like our bright future might be bringing us something else entirely—smart toilets. No, I’m not talking about Japan’s (already existing) electronic bidet toilets, they’ll look Neolithic in comparison.
The toilet of the future will protect your health like never before. Don’t believe me? I’ve got Bill Gates to back me up here. For the past ten years, the Microsoft-CEO-turned-philanthropist-turned-potential-wife-cheater has been calling for the development of low-cost, high-efficiency toilets that would bring effective sanitation to the world’s most impoverished areas. At a toilet expo in Beijing in November 2018 (yes, those exist), Gates held aloft a jar of human waste and told the audience, “We see ourselves on the cusp of a sanitation revolution.”
Although Gates’ hope of a new toilet was focused on bringing sanitation change for developing nations, other advocates are calling for a do-over of the bowls in bathrooms all around the world for different reasons. In 2018, gastroenterologist Sameer Berry wrote an article in CNBC about the precise type of smart toilets he had in mind for the future. The smart toilet he was referring to was a health-tracking toilet.
In its fight for ‘a better future’, the health industry has increasingly been working on reaching the dream of precision medicine—health interventions that are customised rather than one size fits all. And in order to reach that goal, researchers have been looking towards the humble toilet as the next frontier of health data.
Most people don’t see their doctors even annually, and usually, you only visit a physician when you have something troubling you. The idea of precision medicine means that doctors could monitor a person much more routinely and try to collect data that might allow them to be more forward-looking in their healthcare. But in order to do so, they would need to find the perfect way to get all this data from us without us having to change our behaviour whatsoever. This is where smart toilets come in.
Internet-connected toilets could basically ‘safeguard’ our health by using discreetly placed sensors and artificial intelligence to analyse our excrements. Such a toilet could detect early signs of disease and help people manage chronic conditions such as diabetes. Someone developing the condition might have high levels of glucose in their urine before they show any symptoms; for those who’ve had the condition a long time, raised levels of protein in their pee might suggest the disease has begun causing kidney damage. In both cases, the quicker individuals and their doctors are made aware something’s wrong, the quicker they can intervene to prevent worse complications from developing.
“If they were all incorporated into one toilet we’d be able to get so much data from that—I think it would be incredible. The opportunities are honestly endless,” Berry told NBC News in 2019. Using urine to spot disease is nothing new in medicine, but such checks might happen once a year, if they happen at all—smart toilets could do the same tests several times a day, only quicker and without the need for a doctor or nurse. So, when should you expect your own multidisciplinary little helper?
Director of the Molecular Imaging Program at Stanford Doctor Sanjiv Sam Gambhir and his researchers began researching the potential of a smart toilet for improving health in 2020. The smart toilet they’ve built records and analyses the condition of the user’s faeces as well as analysing its composition, looking for signs of molecules that could indicate diseases such as cancer. The toilet can also study the flow rate of urine—obstructions such as an enlarged prostate can cause flow to drop off—as well as keep track of particles leaving the body in the urine.
Once all the information’s been collated, it can then be sent to a cloud-based system for analysis and shared with the user’s physician rather than having all the notifications sent to the user’s phone—potentially worrying them with an avalanche of data. Amazon’s Alexa is probably shaking in its boots already, knowing that the Internet of Things might soon have a new favourite. After all, everyone has to use the toilet, right?
And if you still don’t believe me, have a look at what the futurist Sinead Bovell predicts for your future bathroom: