Everybody poops. That’s not just the name of a popular potty training book, but it’s an essential fact of life. However, most people merely flush it away without a second thought. In the spirit of one man’s trash being another man’s treasure, the non-profit company OpenBiome is actually paying for stool samples in order to create lifesaving fecal transplant treatments for those infected with Clostridium difficile, a bacteria which is highly resistant to antibiotics.
Infections of C. difficile result in severe diarrhea, hospitalizing 250,000 Americans each year and causing about 14,000 deaths. It can actually come about after using antibiotics for too long, which ties into what makes it exceptionally difficult to treat. The patient’s gut microbiota is nearly wiped out, and conventional probiotics are not sufficient to replace them.
The best treatment for C. difficile infections is a fecal transplant, and yes, it has traditionally been as horrible as it sounds. Doctors have relied on highly invasive nasogastric tubes (NG tubes) or colonoscopies to put donor fecal matter into the gut of their infected patients. As difficult as the process may be, it is highly successful. A new method uses capsules of frozen fecal matter, which thaw out in the body and release the contents in the small intestines. The success rates of the capsules is comparable to traditional treatments, around 90 percent.
These frozen fecal capsules are OpenBiome’s wheelhouse, as they collect and screen stool samples, and turn them into the ready-to-administer treatments for hospitals. Of course, the feces needs to be sourced from somewhere. OpenBiome pays donors who are committed to providing multiple samples per week.
Though everybody may do it, not everyone is an ideal candidate to get paid to do it. First and foremost, OpenBiome needs donors to be near their lab in Medford, Massachusetts to join the registry to donate. Candidates who meet the requirements for age, BMI, and health pre-screening questions are then invited to get blood and stool testing. Donations are then made at least four times per week for 60 days, when each donor is re-evaluated. Once the next round of blood and stool tests come back clear, the previous samples are then converted into capsules and sent to patients across the country.
The going rate is $40 per donation, with a $50 kicker for those who come five days a week. This translates into $250 per week, or $13,000 per year. OpenBiome tries to make the experience as fun as they can by offering prizes to donors who make the most donations, provide the biggest sample, etc. However, there’s no word on if OpenBiome offers a fun sticker to show off your donation to friends and family, such as the “Be nice to me, I gave blood today” badge handed out by the Red Cross.