What Really Causes Chronic Lung Infections in Children with Cystic Fibrosis?

Not all bacteria are created equal, but all play a role in sustaining–or breaking down–health. And when you’re talking about children with cystic fibrosis (CF), a lung disease that impairs their ability to breath while encouraging the growth of bacteria, it’s integral to understand what bacteria are present. To read more about CF, click here.

Recently a large multicenter study at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago explored the nuances of lung bacteria in children with cystic fibrosis–who tend to develop chronic lung infections. They discovered that there were more good and bad bacteria present in their lungs compared to controls. The study also found less diversity of bacteria in the lungs of CF patients who were older and had more lung disease or inflammation. Results, published in the European Respiratory Journal, provide a basis for future treatment studies.

“Just like the human gut, the lungs are home to many different communities of bacteria that normally do not cause disease and are associated with good health,” said study co-author Susanna McColley, MD , from Stanley Manne Children’s Research Institute at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, and Professor of Pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

Young children with cystic fibrosis have many of these “good” or normal bacteria in the lung, McColley explained. However, in cystic fibrosis patients, these common bacteria occur in an environment where there is more inflammation compared to children with other diseases. She hopes that future studies will continue to explore future interventions that preserve bacterial diversity in the lung as a potential strategy to reduce chronic infections with damaging bacteria in CF.

“We use a lot of antibiotics to treat CF lung disease, which can reduce the number and diversity of normal bacteria in the lung. We do not know whether this decreased bacterial diversity contributes to lung disease in cystic fibrosis or is just a side effect of treatment,” said McColley. “To address this question, we could study the effects of giving antibiotics over time or examine if there are ways to manipulate the bacterial diversity in the lungs with probiotics. Our study results could have an important impact on generating hypotheses and designing intervention studies to improve outcomes for patients with cystic fibrosis.”

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