FDA warns about fecal microbiota for transplantation


Officials at the Food and Drug Administration have issued a safety alert regarding the use of fecal microbiota for transplantation and the risk of serious adverse reactions because of transmission of multidrug-resistant organisms (MDROs).

Assistant professor of medicine at New York University

Dr. Lea Ann Chen

According to the alert, which was issued on June 13, 2019, the agency became aware of two immunocompromised adult patients who received investigational fecal microbiota for transplantation (FMT) and developed extended-spectrum beta-lactamase (EBSL)–producing Escherichia coli. One of the patients died.

“This is certainly a theoretical risk that we’ve known about,” Lea Ann Chen, MD, a gastroenterologist at New York University, said in an interview. “This announcement is important, because we probably don’t counsel patients specifically about this risk. We say there is a risk for transmission of infectious agents in general, but I think that probably very few counsel patients about a risk for transmission of MDROs.”

The donor stool and FMT used in the two patients were not tested for ESBL-producing gram-negative organisms prior to use.

As a result of these serious adverse reactions, the FDA has determined that the following donor screening and stool testing protections are needed for any investigational use of FMT.

  • Donor screening with questions that specifically address risk factors for colonization with MDROs, and exclusion of individuals at higher risk of colonization with MDROs.
  • MDRO testing of donor stool and exclusion of stool that tests positive for MDRO. FDA scientists have determined the specific MDRO testing and frequency that should be implemented.

On June 14, the American Gastroenterological Association sent a communication about the FDA alert to its members, which stated that the AGA “is committed to advancing applications of the gut microbiome. Our top priority is ensuring patient safety from microbiome-based therapeutics, such as FMT. Through the AGA FMT National Registry, AGA is working with physicians and patients to track FMT usage, patient outcomes and adverse events. Associated with the registry is a biorepository of donor and patient stool samples, which will allow further investigation of unexpected events such as those described in FDA’s safety alert.”

Dr. Chen, who received the AGA Research Foundation’s 2016 Research Scholar Award for her work on the gut microbiome and inflammatory bowel disease, pointed out that FMT has also been studied as a way to prevent colonization and infection with certain drug resistant organisms, such as vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus.

“Therefore, it’s not that FMT is ‘bad;’ we just have to be more diligent about optimizing the safety of the procedure by screening for of multidrug-resistant organisms,” she said. “We also need to study the use of FMT more, so that we can fully understand the risks associated with the procedure. It’s an important and potentially lifesaving procedure for some, but it’s important that everyone go into the procedure understanding fully what the risks and benefits are.”

Suspected adverse events related to the administration of FMT products can be reported to the FDA at 1-800-332-1088 or via MedWatch.

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