Think of it, in the words of Science News, as the "Brown Cross." OpenBiome, started by grad students, has the distinction of being the nation's first stool sample bank, and its creators make a convincing case that it's long overdue. Consider that about 14,000 Americans die each year from a gastrointestinal infection known as Clostridium difficile. Doctors have found that fecal transplants are an effective remedy for C. diff, but it's such new territory that finding safe samples isn't so easy. Enter OpenBiome, which provides $250 samples to hospitals from screened patients, and has sent more than 135 such "preparations" to 13 hospitals since September; the samples are currently exclusively used for the treatment of C. diff.
"People are dying, and it’s crazy because we know what the solution is," co-creator Mark Smith, a grad student at MIT (which houses the samples), tells the New York Times. "People are doing fecal transplants in their basements and may not be doing any of the right screening or sterile preparation. We need an intermediate solution until there are commercial products on the market." As for those interested in making a "physical donation," bad news: OpenBiome has "a full team of donors hard at work, though we appreciate the offer!" The FDA is still working on rules for fecal transplants, but in the meantime it says it won't go after doctors who use them. "We need some clarity," a gastroenterologist tells the Times. (Read more fecal transplant stories.)