(Guest Bloggers, Sasha Lieberman, Nonprofit Management Fellow and Carolyn Edelstein, Director of Policy and Global Partnerships, OpenBiome)
Mark Smith and James Burgess were inspired to found OpenBiome after a family friend who had suffered with repeated C. difficile infections shared his story of having to resort to performing a DIY fecal transplant at home. Since its founding in 2012, OpenBiome has been committed to enabling safe access to fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT) by providing rigorously screened, ready-to-use microbiota preparations for use in FMT and by catalyzing research into the human microbiome.
This year, OpenBiome launched PersonalBiome, a pilot service that allows individuals who are at risk of contracting C. diff to preserve a copy of their healthy microbiome. In the event that these individuals do end up experiencing recurrent C. diff infections, participants can retrieve their sample from their PersonalBiome bank to repopulate their gut with their own healthy microbial community. PersonalBiome pushes OpenBiome’s mission to provide safe microbiota treatments from its pool of universal stool donors forward by expanding the available options for repopulating the gut microbiome following a C. diff infection.
In some ways, the service resembles that of private umbilical cord blood banking. A practice that began in the early 1990s, cord blood banking is now undertaken by a network of over 100 cord blood banks and transplant centers that have stored over 400,000 units of cord blood worldwide. The vast majority of banked cord blood is for use by unrelated donors, but private banks have arisen to give families the option of storing their own cord blood, a service that is most useful for those with family members who have a current or potential need for a stem cell transplant.
Current FDA regulations governing FMT only permit physicians to treat patients with FMT outside of a clinical trial, if the patient experiences repeated, unresolvable C. diff. These regulations apply equally to one’s own stool as well as stool from a universal bank. However, co-founder and executive director James Burgess, featured in this recent FastCompany article about the PersonalBiome pilot project, envisions a future in which high-risk patients can bank their microbiomes to help prevent and treat other microbiome-associated diseases.