The Lung Microbiome: a Critical Predictor in Severe Disease?

According to a story from Medical Xpress, a recent study has concluded that characteristics of a patient’s lung microbiome can help predict treatment outcomes, particular in patients with severe lung illness. The study revealed a number of factors regarding the lung’s microbiome that were consistent with treatment impacts and patient needs.

The Microbiome

The human microbiome is comprised of the hundreds of trillions of microscopic life forms that makes the human body its home. This includes viruses and fungi, but bacteria make up the vast majority. Research, primarily focusing on the gut microbiome, where the greatest diversity of these organisms appears, has revealed that the composition of the microbiome can shift drastically based on several factors. These factors include disease, dietary choices, and other factors.

Less research has been done in regards to the lung microbiome. In fact, the lungs have historically been regarded as a sterile environment. However, more recent investigation has revealed that these organs have their own bacterial communities. The study demonstrates that these communities are subject to changes in composition much in the same way that the gut microbiome can be.

Research Results

The scientists found that patients with a higher population of lung bacteria upon admission to the ICU required use of a ventilator for a longer period of time. This effect was not explained by other factors such as pneumonia or other severe illness. The composition of the lung microbiome also had impacts. People who had a higher than normal presence of bacteria normally found in the gut often had worse outcomes. The presence of Enterbacteriaceae in the lungs was linked to acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), which causes severe inflammation and is potentially life-threatening.

Another earlier study revealed that the lung microbiome can predict outcomes in idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a rare lung disease. It is clear that the lung bacteria are altered in the severely ill and it can predict who will recover and who will see disease progression.

While there were some limitations to the study, the authors are optimistic that the findings suggest that manipulating the lung microbiome could help make treatment more effective. Future research will focus on determining how this may be possible.

Check out this study here.


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