Study examines the use of healthy gut bacteria to treat Crohn’s disease

A research project underway at St Vincent’s is investigating whether faecal transplantation can be used as a novel treatment option for patients with Crohn’s disease.

The study is exploring whether gut inflammation caused by the condition can be treated by using healthy bacteria to replace unhealthy bacteria.

Led by St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne, in partnership with the University of Melbourne and Adelaide’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital, the Microbial Restoration in Inflammatory Bowel Disease (MIRO) study is believed to be the largest of its kind. “Faecal transplantation is a revolutionary treatment approach that has also been trialed in treating other inflammatory bowel diseases with good results,” said Project Lead, Dr Sasha Fehily, Gastroenterologist at St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne.

“Through this research, we hope to investigate that using the faeces from a healthy person and transplanting them into a patient with Crohn’s disease can help re-establish a healthy, well-balanced community of bacteria in the gut.”


Image: Dr Sasha Fehily, St Vincent's gastroenterologist and MIRO study Project Lead

Living with Crohn’s disease

Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory condition of the bowel that affects more than 60,000 Australians. Symptoms include pain, diarrhoea, weight loss and poor wellbeing.

Traditionally, treatment has involved regular medication to suppress the immune system. While this form of treatment is effective for some, there are many patients who don’t respond well or find the benefits of medication diminish over time.

“At present, we use immune-suppressing drugs to treat Crohn’s disease, which essentially dampens the consequences of the disease rather than treating the cause,” said Dr Fehily.

“We see short-term benefits using these medications, but there are sometimes long-term risks associated with this treatment, including infection, liver problems and cancer.”

Multidisciplinary focus

Patients participating in the MIRO study receive care from a multidisciplinary team led by the Kamm Research Group based at St Vincent’s Fitzroy campus. This research group conducts studies that focus on gut disorders, and is comprised of a high-level team including gastroenterologists, dieticians, clinical scientists and microbiologists.

The study is recruiting trial participants until the end of 2023. Adults living with Crohn’s disease in Victoria can access the study via a medical referral. Eligible patients must be able to travel to Melbourne for endoscopic procedures.

Trial participants will also have access to specialist care to address their questions and medical concerns.

“Living with Crohn’s disease is challenging from a physical, social and psychological point of view. Progressive complications occur with inadequate treatment,” said Dr Fehily.

“Through this research, we hope to assess whether we are able to develop a therapeutic approach that will allow people with Crohn’s disease to live more comfortable lives that are free of pain and, offer an alternate pathway when drug therapy is not a viable option.”


Image: The MIRO study team