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DKK 17 million towards systematically fighting dangerous intestinal bacterium

Every year, 4,000 people in Denmark are affected by the serious Clostridium difficile infection, which cannot be effectively combated with antibiotics. The Innovation Fund Denmark is now supporting a research project which aims to develop and quality-assure a treatment with faeces from healthy donors which is effective for nine out of ten patients.

The effect is really quite dramatic, Christian Lodberg Hvas explains. Whereas the patients previously could go through one antibiotic treatment after the other over and over again and experience long periods of diarrhoea and general weakness, with a single treatment we can now prevent the bacteria returning, after which the patient becomes healthy again.

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, as the saying goes. And if things go to plan, faeces from registered and thoroughly tested healthy donors will in a few years be the standard treatment for the bacterium Clostridium difficile at Danish hospitals. This is the goal of a research project that is being backed by the Innovation Fund Denmark to the tune of DKK 17 million in the period 2019-2023.

Medical doctors and researchers have long known that faeces transplantation – as the treatment is called – is so effective against the stubborn bacterium Clostridium difficile that nine out of ten patients are cured by only a single treatment. In essence, the treatment involves transferring faeces from a healthy donor to the intestine of a patient. By comparison, only about one third of patients become healthy using antibiotics, and several centres therefore offer faeces transplantation as a trial treatment.

However, the problem is that the handling of faeces and the use of faeces as a treatment places high demands on safety, selection and screening of the faeces donors and on patient follow-up. This is where the new research project intends to make a big difference, explains Christian Lodberg Hvas, who is a consultant at Aarhus University Hospital and a clinical associate professor at the Department of Clinical Medicine at Aarhus University. He has been involved in establishing the treatment in Aarhus and is one of the researchers who will now administer the investment – among other things, with the establishment of a so-called faeces bank and the screening of future faeces donors.


The effect is dramatic

"The challenge is systemising everything so that the treatment can be offered to everyone with Clostridium infection and doing this with the highest possible level of safety and effect. This will be one of the main tasks of the upcoming research project," says Christian Lodberg Hvas.

"The effect is really quite dramatic. Clostridium difficile typically affects patients who are already weakened or ill for other reasons. Whereas these patients previously could go through one antibiotic treatment after the other over and over again and experience long periods of diarrhoea and general weakness, with a single treatment we can now prevent the bacteria returning, after which the patient becomes healthy again. At the same time, the number of hospitalisation days also falls significantly, which benefits the patients, hospitals and the economy in general," he says.

Organisationally, the investment by the Innovation Fund Denmark is made to CEFTA (The Centre for Faeces Transplantation) at Aarhus University Hospital, which is headed by Christian Lodberg Hvas, and which has treated 200 critically ill patients with faeces transplantation since 2014. The coming development, quality assurance and organisation placement in clinical practice will take place in a collaboration between the Department of Hepatology and Gastroenterology at Aarhus University Hospital, the Blood Bank at Aarhus University Hospital, the Department of Business and Management at Aalborg University and the National Food Institute at the Technical University of Denmark.

"The idea is to use the many years of experience from the blood bank to standardise the selection and screening of faeces donors and in this way develop a faeces bank that is just as safe as a blood bank. At the same time, the project will contribute to the development of freeze-dried donor faeces in the form of capsules that will supplement what we typically do today, which is to provide faeces transplantation through an endoscope or probe inserted in the intestines," explains Christian Lodberg Hvas.

"But having said this, our most important product is the scientific publications. It's more a case of ensuring an effective treatment at Danish hospitals than about making money. The research project will help us on a general level, and we are grateful to the Innovation Fund Denmark for making a contribution to this," says Christian Lodberg Hvas.

Information about the project can be found on the Innovation Fund Denmark website www.innovationsfonden.dk.

More about Clostridium difficile:

  • Clostridium difficile is an extremely stubborn bacterium that is able to survive even in sterile hospital environments because it makes spores that can withstand both drying and alcohol.
  • In a weakened patient, Clostridium difficile damages the intestine and causes a severe diarrhoea condition that can be life-threatening.
  • For one in four patients, the infection returns even after treatment with antibiotics. If the bacterium returns, it is almost impossible to get rid of, and mortality increases.
  • Clostridium difficile is today regarded as one of the most dangerous bacteria for humans.

The project in brief:

  • The Innovation Fund Denmark's investment: DKK 17 million.
  • Total budget for the project: DKK 25 million.
  • Duration of the project: Five years.
  • Official project title: Center for Faeces Transplantation at Aarhus University Hospital (CEFTA).


Aarhus University Hospital, Department of Hepatology and Gastroenterology, DK-8200, Aarhus N: Consultant Christian Lodberg Hvas, christian.hvas@auh.rm.dk, (+45) 7845 3800.