Nova Scotia

Halifax doctor seeks poop samples in the name of research

Dr. Tony Otley believes the mystery behind high rates of bowel diseases such as Crohn's and ulcerative colitis in the Maritimes can be found in stool.

Dr. Tony Otley will spend four years examining stool to test treatment options

Dr. Tony Otley is using cheeky signs to draw attention to his new research. He would love to have poop donations from hundreds of people in the region who can access the IWK or QEII. (Carolyn Ray/CBC)

At the time of year when people are being asked to be generous, a doctor at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax has an unusual request.

Dr. Tony Otley is on the hunt for poop.

Otley believes the mystery behind high rates of bowel diseases such as Crohn's and ulcerative colitis in the Maritimes can be found in stool.

He'll spend the next few years studying poop in an effort to get to the bottom of what's wrong with our guts.

"In the Maritimes, in Nova Scotia particularly, we have the highest rates of inflammatory bowel disease in the world," he said. "Why that should be, we really don't understand."

Cross-Canada study

Otley is a pediatric gastroenterologist at the IWK. Gastroenterology focuses on the digestive system and diseases linked to it.

He is taking part in the IMAGINE study, a cross-Canada investigation into gastrointestinal issues and their link to mental health. More than 100 researchers are involved.

Otley will be working with Dr. Jennifer Jones at the QEII Health Sciences Centre in Halifax.

"We actually have more gut bacteria in our bodies than we have human cells in our bodies. So the bacteria are important," he said.

Those with gastrointestinal disorders have higher rates of anxiety and depression, according to the IMAGINE website. Otley said while diagnosis rates are typically levelling out, they're still rising in children until age 10.

He said researchers have been looking into these diseases for about 20 years. Many aspects of causes, treatments and cures remain unknown. 

Otley is on the hunt for hundreds of volunteers from Nova Scotia who can visit the IWK or QEII annually for four years.

He's using humorous signs to draw attention to the poop donation aspect of the work, but participants will also be asked for blood and urine samples, and to fill out questionnaires.

"We are not turning away any poop. So [if] somebody was interested in participating, we'd work to try and make it happen."

8,000 participants

Across Canada, there will be 8,000 participants in total from four categories — patients with Crohn's disease, those with ulcerative colitis, people with irritable bowel syndrome and those who are healthy.

"There's nothing of this kind of magnitude with these conditions that that has been done to date."

Otley is hopeful a large percentage of the participants will be from the Maritimes, where the inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome rates are high. Researchers will then use that information to try to look for new treatment options.

Liquid diet

Otley said one of the main treatments currently available for children with Crohn's disease is nutritional therapy, where patients are put on a liquid diet until the disease goes into remission. He wants to know if adults would have the same results.

"Getting my adult colleagues, getting adult patients, to buy into that has been a challenge, and yet we know that it works in children," he said.

"I'm hoping that through this research we can get … more information to show to adults with these conditions that non-medication [forms] of treatment and nutritional therapy can impact their disease in a positive way."

So far, family members of some of his patients have signed up. He's also heard from curious university students.

"We got some interesting responses early on from, I think, probably some starving students who wanted to understand what they might receive for providing their poop," he laughed.

People wanting to donate can reach out to Otley at or 902-470-7009.



Carolyn Ray


Carolyn Ray is a videojournalist who has reported out of three provinces and two territories, and is now based in Halifax. You can reach her at


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