HomeHealth‘Zoo poo’ from endangered species could prevent amputations
‘Zoo poo’ from endangered species could prevent amputations
September 21, 2023
Can the feces of endangered species prevent disease from diabetes?
Yes, say UK scientists, who discovered some “zoo poo” contains viruses called bacteriophages that can kill “superbugs,” including the antibiotic-resistant bacteria that infect foot ulcers.
Ulcers and open sores in the feet are common among people with diabetes, due to nerve damage and poor circulation.
And many of these ulcers contain bacteria that are resistant to most antibiotics, making infection a serious concern. An infected ulcer that won’t heal may require the amputation of a toe, foot or lower leg, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Now, researchers from the UK’s University of Sheffield and the Yorkshire Wildlife Park have announced that the poop from certain animals — including some endangered species — contain the viral bacteriophages that target and kill bacteria in foot ulcers.
The scientists hope that the naturally occurring viruses could someday be included in wound dressing applied to previously untreatable diabetic foot ulcers.
“Despite the smell, it turns out that the fecal matter of endangered species could hold the key to killing infectious bacteria that are otherwise resistant to antibiotics,” Prof. Graham Stafford, Chair in Molecular Microbiology at the University of Sheffield, said in a news release.
“So far we have managed to find antibacterial viruses from Guinea baboon, giraffe, lemur, Visakan pigs, and our favorite, the cuddly binturongs [bearcats], and are working hard to develop these into viable treatments for patients whose next option is the loss of a toe, foot or leg,” Stafford said.
“Importantly, the treatment could also help reduce costs of about £1 billion per year to the NHS,” he added, referring to the UK’s National Health System.
Bacteriophage therapy has been used to treat sepsis and some diabetic foot infections, but this is the first time researchers have investigated the potential of naturally occurring bacteriophages using the poop of endangered species.
And someone who has had an amputation has a worse chance of five-year survival than someone with coronary artery disease, breast cancer or colorectal cancer.
“Diabetic foot infections are often a challenge to treat, and patients may need to have surgery to amputate part of the foot or leg, which can have a huge impact on their quality of life,” said Dr. Dave Partridge of the Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.
“If bacteriophage therapy proves successful, this could provide us with the ability to treat these infections in a different way, shortening courses of antibiotics and potentially avoiding the need for surgery,” Partridge added.
“We have been searching for new treatments for antibiotic resistance for a while, and we are the first to look for such a virus in zoo poo. We look forward to the poo pick up, which the wonderful team at the zoo place in a cool box in a fridge for us,” said Stafford.
“It’s a delight that endangered species are contributing to such a positive and powerful purpose,” he added. “It provides an ever stronger reason to conserve endangered animals.”