Scientists’ Slimey Discovery Could Yield More Effective Pneumonia Treatment for Cystic Fibrosis

Researchers at the at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis are studying slime. That’s right. And it’s not just any slime. It’s the slime produced by bacteria that keeps antibiotics from being effective in fighting off infection in the lungs of people with cystic fibrosis (CF).

And it’s a wicked foe for people whose lungs produce too much mucus anyway.

If this sounds like something out of the pages of Fantastic Voyage (remember the book/movie about the team of scientists who shrink themselves down to travel into the body and to repair a colleague’s brain damage?), it’s not. But the Indiana researchers do believe they have found a marker within a specific protein that plays a crucial role in signaling bacteria when and where to form biofilms (the slime-producing bacteria clusters) that wreak havoc in the lungs of people with CF.

Individuals with CF have a high risk of chronic pneumonia because the thick, sticky mucus that builds up in their lungs provides an environment that helps increase the growth of pneumonia-causing bacteria. Once it develops, chronic pneumonia is nearly impossible to cure and can become deadly.

We know quite a lot about the regulatory signaling that is involved in the bacterium telling itself to form a biofilm, but we haven’t had much knowledge about the molecular signals that tell these organisms that it’s an appropriate time and place to cluster,” said Gregory G. Anderson microbiologist at the School of Science and corresponding author of the new study published in Journal of Bacteriology.

“Specifically, we haven’t known what signals bacteria are receiving from the environment — in this case, the mucus in CF patients’ lungs — to tell them to form biofilms.”

Anderson believes that his team has identified an important link that will help them find better ways to disrupt the biofilm formation (aka slime) and lead to improved treatments for chronic pneumonia in CF patients. And fortunately, exploring the molecular signals does not require shrinking to microscopic size to do battle with the slime-producing proteins.

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