Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a chronic, relapsing disease of the gastrointestinal tract that is thought to be associated with a complex interplay between microbes and the immune system, leading to an abnormal inflammatory response in genetically susceptible individuals. Dysbiosis, characterized by the alteration of the composition of the resident commensal bacteria in a host compared to healthy individuals, is thought to play a major role in the pathogenesis of ulcerative colitis (UC) and Crohn’s disease (CD), two subtypes of IBD. There is growing interest to correct the underlying dysbiosis through the use of fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT) for the treatment of IBD.
Data collection and analysis
Two authors independently screened the titles and extracted data from the included studies. We used the Cochrane risk of bias tool to assess study bias. The primary outcomes were induction of clinical remission, clinical relapse, and serious adverse events. Secondary outcomes included clinical response, endoscopic remission and endoscopic response, quality of life scores, laboratory measures of inflammation, withdrawals, and microbiome outcomes. We calculated the risk ratio (RR) and corresponding 95% confidence interval (95% CI) for dichotomous outcomes and the mean difference and 95% CI for continuous outcomes. Random‐effects meta‐analysis models were used to synthesize effect sizes across trials. The overall certainty of the evidence supporting the primary and selected secondary outcomes was rated using the GRADE criteria.
Four studies with a total of 277 participants were included. These studies assessed the efficacy of FMT for treatment of UC in adults; no eligible trials were found for the treatment of CD. Most participants had mild to moderate UC. Two studies were conducted in Australia, one study was conducted in Canada, and another in the Netherlands. Three of the included studies administered FMT via the rectal route and one study administered FMT via the nasoduodenal route. Three studies were rated as low risk of bias. One study (abstract publication) was rated as unclear risk of bias. Combined results from four studies (277 participants) suggest that FMT increases rates of clinical remission by two‐fold in patients with UC compared to controls. At 8 weeks, 37% (52/140) of FMT participants achieved remission compared to 18% (24/137) of control participants (RR 2.03, 95 % CI, 1.07 to 3.86; I² = 50%; low certainty evidence). One study reported data on relapse at 12 weeks among participants who achieved remission. None of the FMT participants (0/7) relapsed at 12 weeks compared to 20% of control participants (RR 0.28, 95% CI 0.02 to 4.98, 17 participants, very low certainty evidence). It is unclear whether there is a difference in serious adverse event rates between the intervention and control groups. Seven per cent (10/140) of FMT participants had a serious adverse event compared to 5% (7/137) of control participants (RR 1.40, 95% CI 0.55 to 3.58; 4 studies; I² = 0%; low certainty evidence). Serious adverse events included worsening of UC necessitating intravenous steroids or surgery; infection such as Clostridium difficile and cytomegalovirus, small bowel perforation and pneumonia. Adverse events were reported by two studies and the pooled data did not show any difference between the study groups. Seventy‐eight per cent (50/64) of FMT participants had an adverse event compared to 75% (49/65) of control participants (RR 1.03, 95% CI 0.81 to 1.31; I² = 31%; moderate certainty evidence). Common adverse events included abdominal pain, nausea, flatulence, bloating, upper respiratory tract infection, headaches, dizziness, and fever. Four studies reported on clinical response at 8 weeks. Forty‐nine per cent (68/140) of FMT participants had a clinical response compared to 28% (38/137) of control participants (RR 1.70, 95% CI 0.98 to 2.95, I² = 50%, low certainty evidence). Endoscopic remission at 8 weeks was reported by three studies and the combined results favored FMT over the control group. Thirty per cent (35/117) of FMT participants achieved endoscopic remission compared to 10% (11/112) of control participants (RR 2.96, 95 % CI 1.60 to 5.48, I² = 0%; low certainty evidence).
Fecal microbiota transplantation may increase the proportion of participants achieving clinical remission in UC. However, the number of identified studies was small and the quality of evidence was low. There is uncertainty about the rate of serious adverse events. As a result, no solid conclusions can be drawn at this time. Additional high‐quality studies are needed to further define the optimal parameters of FMT in terms of route, frequency, volume, preparation, type of donor and the type and disease severity. No studies assessed efficacy of FMT for induction of remission in CD or in pediatric participants. In addition, no studies assessed long‐term maintenance of remission in UC or CD. Future studies are needed to address the therapeutic benefit of FMT in CD and the long‐term FMT‐mediated maintenance of remission in UC or CD.