Altruism the strongest motivator for stool donors, study shows

New U of A research identifies ways to motivate the public to donate stool critical for fecal transplants.

A feeling of concern for others is the strongest reason someone would be willing to donate stool samples to conduct research on fecal transplants, according to University of Alberta research.

Stool donations are used to treat between 200 and 300 patients across Alberta with debilitating bacterial infections of Clostridium difficile, explained Dina Kao, associate professor in the U of A's Division of Gastroenterology, and the study's co-author.

"Fecal transplants are often the only way to treat these patients who must otherwise be on antibiotics," she said. "With the potential for other therapeutic uses currently being investigated, such as to treat inflammatory bowel disease, we felt it would useful to research donor motivations with hopes of encouraging more stool giving."

"Stool samples are always in need," said U of A medical student Breanna McSweeney, the study's lead author who presented the research group's findings June 5 in Washington at Digestive Disease Week.

The survey of 802 people living in Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. showed that 75 per cent would give stool donation for altruistic reasons, although 35 per cent of those did report they would do it for economic reasons, too.

"People told us they would donate their stool because it makes them feel better. Overall, we found that the public is very positive about donating stool, and that an accepted monetary fee was roughly $20 to $30 per donation," said McSweeney.

The survey also showed that health institutions seeking to increase stool donations should target blood donors because they are much more likely to also donate stool, she said.

"Participants also told us that once-a-week donations was the ideal frequency," added Kao, who said the survey highlighted the importance of finding time-efficient ways for donors to collect and deliver their samples.

While there are only a few fecal transplant programs in Canada, there is a need to expand stool banks to meet patient demand and support ongoing research, she added. For example, Kao, whose research team is funded by Alberta Health Services and community donors through the University Hospital Foundation, is currently conducting a clinical trial on fecal transplant to treat patients with Crohn's disease.

Because screening can eliminate many donors, the university is always seeking new donors.

Interested members of the public may learn more by calling Kao's office at 780-492-8307.