Anna Dumitriu created “Don’t Try This At Home” (2015) commissioned by Eden Project for their permanent exhibition “Invisible You. The Human Microbiome” which now forms a key part of their flagship “Invisible Worlds” permanent exhibition in the Core Building at Eden Project in Cornwall.
Dumitriu undertook a lab based residency with the Healthcare Associated Infection Research Group at University of Leeds, alongside Caroline Chilton & Jane Freeman, to develop the new sculptural installation, which explores the complex story of faecal microbiota transplants. She has created a cutting edge new sculptural installation incorporating an actual faecal microbiota transplant as would be used in treatments currently undertaken at Leeds General Infirmary under current National Institute for Heath and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines.
Dumitriu shadowed the researchers and worked hands on to develop the new work, which combines a fabricated sealed glass container containing the sterilised biological sample, combined with a range of other materials, including cloth stained with gut bacteria such as Clostridium difficile to tell the story of this emerging, clinically and ethically complex field.
Faecal transplants were approved by NICE in March 2014 for the treatment of recurrent Clostridium difficile infections that have failed to respond to antibiotics and other treatments. C. difficile was initially named Bacillus difficilis by Hall and O’Toole in 1935 because it was resistant to early attempts at isolation and grew very slowly in culture, it was renamed in 1970 and has since become a very serious problem as a consequence of the antibiotic age.
It causes range of symptoms from mild diarrhoea to severe life-threatening inflammation of the colon and is considered a superbug. It is not entirely clear how or why the transplants work but research points towards their success at least in the short term.
The long term effects are not entirely clear. Recent research shows that traits like obesity and leanness can be ‘transmitted’ to mice, by inoculating the rodents with human gut microbes – it is not clear if faecal transplants might have a similar effect in humans, or if they might affect allergies or mood.
Faecal transplants in hospitals are screened for known pathogens (infectious agents that can cause disease) but they cannot be screened for things we do not yet know cause disease and this may prove a long term issue hence the fact that they are only used in seriously ill patients when other avenues for treatment have been exhausted.
There is also concern around riskier ‘do-it-yourself’ faecal transplants which have started become popular, especially in countries where such medical procedures are not available.
The permanent exhibition opened at Eden Project on 21st April 2015. “Invisible You. The Human Microbiome” was supported by The Wellcome Trust. The anatomical glassware that will be used in the piece was manufactured by Jesse Whipkey of Vasodyn.