As Both Patient and Scientist, I’m Putting Nature’s Medicine to the Test

By Ella Balasa

I peered into one of the incubators that stored my petri dishes for 24 hours, anxious to see whether I would discover discoloration and unevenness on the surface, which would have indicated that my experiment produced favorable results. I wanted to see a visual representation of whether manuka honey kills the stubborn Pseudomonas bacterium, which dwells in nearly half of the lungs affected by CF.

I’m a microbiology lab scientist, plus an inquisitive writer. I also consider myself an informed, self-advocating realist. Life experiences have taught me that I am solely responsible for my health. I strive to keep my health stable through prescribed medications, healthy diet, and some natural supplements.

During my college years, I focused on the environment, especially the living parts that we can’t see but that are essential to the cycle of life — bacteria. It just so happens that certain ones are, understatedly, little pests for people with CF. The lung bacteria of people with CF birth many symptoms and infections.

I continually fight Pseudomonas aeruginosa, my nemesis bacterium that spikes fevers within days of overwhelming my immune system and that has caused countless infections, leaving my lungs with pockets of dead tissue. I take antibiotics frequently, but I also believe that naturally derived compounds can have positive effects. So, despite my disdain and nausea, I sometimes supplement garlic, which contains the antibacterial compound ajoene. I’ve also consumed manuka honey; this I’ve done more religiously, as it tastes more like candy than any “medication.” Manuka honey contains the natural antibiotic methylglyoxal, a compound that fights relentless Pseudomonas by causing its cells to burst and die. I took a spoonful a day for a few years until recently. Maybe I stuck to this exorbitantly priced, palatable remedy merely because of its taste and the flawed logic that expensiveness is indicative of effectivity.

I had the idea to test the effectiveness of the honey on my sputum. My mucus grows many species of bacteria, but Pseudomonas is a primary component, so it’s easy to propagate in the lab setting.

Yes, I took a sputum cup of mucus into work. When inoculating the vials with the bacteria, I was slightly anxious that my lab mates might freak out at the sight of the hazardous and vile-looking green blobs. Then again, they work with wastewater from treatment plants, so it really shouldn’t phase them.

I tested a concentration of 15 percent weight per volume of manuka honey, a choice informed by published studies. I tested half of the petri dishes with honey mixed into the nutrients for the bacteria and the other half without the honey. The dishes with the honey should have less bacterial growth if the treatment works. (If you want more detail on the process, drop a comment below this column.)

The yellow dish has the honey added and the white dish doesn’t. (Photo by Ella Balasa)

After the 24-hour incubation period, I was excited to see the results of science that we as patients typically do not participate in. We provide our sputum samples during doctor’s appointments, then labs perform antibiotic resistance tests, and results are returned as values on a piece of paper indicating resistance or susceptibility. We don’t see the process. I was doing this same research on my own, and in a sense, taking the utmost control of my health.

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Antibiotic plus probiotic combination may kill off superbugs

By 

Every year, over 2 million people in the United States develop infections that are resistant to treatment, and approximately 23,000 people die as a result.

These statistics have prompted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to deem drug resistance “one of the biggest public health challenges of our time.”

Therefore, researchers are hard at work trying to develop ingenious ways of tackling so-called superbugs — bacteria that have become immune to antibiotic treatment.

Lately, researchers have added probiotics to their arsenal against superbugs. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria found in foods, such as yogurt, kefir, pickles, or miso soup.

Only a month ago, for example, a study suggested that simply consuming probiotics on a regular basis could reduce the need for antibiotics, thus helping to curb the drug resistance crisis. Continue reading Antibiotic plus probiotic combination may kill off superbugs

For Cystic Fibrosis Lung Infections, How Well Antibiotics Work May be Affected by pH, Oxygen

By Heather Buschman, PhD

People living with cystic fibrosis (CF) spend their entire lives battling chronic lung infections that are notoriously resistant to antibiotic therapy. Yet a one-size-fits all approach to wiping out the offending bacterium may not be the best approach for all patients with the disease, according to a new study by researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine and Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. Continue reading For Cystic Fibrosis Lung Infections, How Well Antibiotics Work May be Affected by pH, Oxygen

Newfound airway cells may breathe life into tackling cystic fibrosis

By Aimee Cunningham

Meet the ionocyte. This newly discovered cell may be the star of future cystic fibrosis therapies. Researchers have found that the gene tied to the disease is very active in the cells, which line the air passages of the lungs.

While the cells are rare, making up only 1 to 2 percent of cells that line the airways, they seem to play an outsized role in keeping lungs clear. The identification of the ionocyte “provides key information for targeting treatments,” says medical geneticist Garry Cutting of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, who was not involved in the research. Two teams, working independently, each describe the new cell online August 1 in Nature.

The ionocyte shares its name with similar cells found in fish gills and frog skin. This type of cell regulates fluid movement at surfaces — skin, gills, airways — where air and water meet. In people, special proteins that tunnel across cell membranes lining the airways allow chloride ions (half of what makes salt) to move into the airway. This causes water to move into the airway through a different channel to moisten mucus along the lining, which helps it remove bacteria and inhaled particles from the body.

The tunnel protein that allows chloride ions through is made by a gene called CFTR. In cystic fibrosis patients, that gene is flawed. Airways can’t regulate water movement properly and get clogged with thick mucus that traps bacteria and leads to persistent infections and lung damage. The genetic disease affects at least 70,000 people worldwide, according to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation in Bethesda, Md.

Researchers had suspected CFTR was most active in ciliated cells — cells with brushlike projections that work along with the mucus in airways to move invaders out. But the new work found very little gene activity in those cells, compared with the ionocytes.

In experiments with laboratory samples of mouse cells from the airway lining, cell biologist Jayaraj Rajagopal of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and his colleagues found that the gene was very active in ionocytes: out of all the instructions for building the tunnels detected in the cells, 54 percent came from ionocytes. Aron Jaffe, a respiratory disease researcher at Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Mass., and his colleagues reported that, in laboratory samples of human airways cells, ionocytes were the source of 60 percent of the activity of the tunnels.

The discovery of the new cells raises a lot of questions. Jaffe wonders where ionocytes are positioned in the lining of the airways, and how that placement supports the coordination of water movement and mucus secretion by other cells. “You can imagine the distribution [of ionocytes] is really important,” he says.

A question Rajagopal has: “How does a rare cell type do all of this work?” In fish and frogs, ionocytes are loaded with mitochondria, the so-called cellular energy factories, he notes. Maybe that will be true for human ionocytes, too, giving them lots of energy to do the lion’s share of regulating the movement of water.

Both researchers say the ionocyte’s discovery should lead to a better understanding of cystic fibrosis. “It will let us think about creative new ways to approach the disease,” Rajagopal says.

Original article here.

Cinnamon Oil Compound Might Block Bacteria Like P. aeruginosa from Forming Biofilms

By: Alice Melao

A natural component found in cinnamon oil, known as cinnamaldehyde or CAD, may be able to prevent Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteria from spreading in an organism and inhibit their ability to form antibiotic-resistant biofilms, researchers show.

These findings may support further study into anti-microbial medications that can help control the behavior of these so-called superbugs, or treatment-resistant bacteria, which represent a serious healthcare problem for people with cystic fibrosis and other diseases.

The discovery was reported in “Cinnamaldehyde disrupts biofilm formation and swarming motility of Pseudomonas aeruginosa,” published in the journal Microbiology.

“Humans have a long history of using natural products to treat infections, and there is a renewed focus on such antimicrobial compounds,” Sanjida Halim Topa, PhD, a researcher at Swinburne University of Technology in Australia, and lead study author, said in a university news release. “Natural products may offer a promising solution to this problem.”

Cinnamaldehyde, one of the major components of cinnamon oil, is responsible for its characteristic flavor. This compound is known to have antimicrobial activity against many bacteria, including P. aeruginosa; a stomach ulcer-causing bacteria called Helicobacter pylori; and Listeria monocytogenes, which is responsible for the food-borne infection listeriosis.

“We hypothesized that using natural antimicrobials, such as essential oils, might interfere in [drug-resistant] biofilm formation,” Topa said. “Though many previous studies have reported antimicrobial activity of cinnamon essential oil, it is not widely used in the pharmaceutical industry.”

Working with researchers at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, the team conducted several experiments to evaluate the impact of different concentrations of cinnamaldehyde on P. aeruginosa biofilms.

They found that non-lethal amounts of the essential oil compound could disrupt by 75.6 % antibiotic-resistant, preformed P. aeruginosa biofilms. Cinnamaldehyde was found to prevent the production of a bacterial-signaling protein essential for bacteria communication and biofilm formation. [Biofilms, or microbe communities whose growth is facilitated by the thick and sticky mucus that marks CF, are known to promote antibiotic resistance in P. aeruginosa lung infections.]

In a concentration-dependent manner, cinnamaldehyde also could reduce the motility of the bacteria, preventing them from spreading elsewhere, the scientists reported.

These findings, the researchers wrote, show “CAD can disrupt biofilms and other surface colonization phenotypes through the modulation of intracellular signaling processes.”

They are now investigating the use of cinnamaldehyde embedded-wound dressings as a way to treat skin infections.

Original article here.

Anaerobic bacteria cultured from CF airways correlate to milder disease-a multisite study

Anaerobic and aerobic bacteria were quantitated in respiratory samples across three cystic fibrosis (CF) centres using extended culture methods. Subjects, ages 1–69 years, who were clinically stable provided sputum (n=200) or bronchoalveolar lavage (n=55). Eighteen anaerobic and 39 aerobic genera were cultured from 59% and 95% of samples, respectively; 16/57 genera had a ≥5% prevalence across centres. Analyses of microbial communities using co-occurrence networks in sputum samples showed groupings of oral, including anaerobic, bacteria whereas typical CF pathogens formed distinct entities. Pseudomonas was associated with worse nutrition and F508del genotype, whereas anaerobe prevalence was positively associated with pancreatic sufficiency, better nutrition and better lung function. A higher ratio of total anaerobe/total aerobe colony forming units was associated with pancreatic sufficiency and better nutrition. Subjects grouped by factor analysis who had relative dominance of anaerobes over aerobes had milder disease compared to a Pseudomonas-dominated group with similar proportions of subjects being homozygous for F508del. In summary, anaerobic bacteria occurred at an early age. In sputum producing subjects anaerobic bacteria were associated with milder disease suggesting that targeted eradication of anaerobes may not be warranted in sputum producing CF subjects.

Full article here.

Toothpaste ingredient may bust up cystic fibrosis biofilms

By Chris Waters and Sarina Gleason

A common antibacterial substance in toothpaste may combat life-threatening diseases such as cystic fibrosis when combined with an with an FDA-approved drug, researchers report.

Researchers have found that when triclosan, a substance that reduces or prevents bacteria from growing, combines with an antibiotic called tobramycin, it kills the cells that protect the CF bacteria, known as Pseudomonas aeruginosa, by up to 99.9 percent.

CF is a common genetic disease with one in every 2,500 to 3,500 people diagnosed with it at an early age. It results in a thick mucus in the lungs, which becomes a magnet for bacteria.

These bacteria are notoriously difficult to kill because a slimy barrier known as a biofilm, which allows the disease to thrive even when treated with antibiotics, protects them.

“The problem that we’re really tackling is finding ways to kill these biofilms,” says Chris Waters, lead author of the study and a microbiology professor at Michigan State University.

According to Waters, there are many common biofilm-related infections that people get, including ear infections and swollen, painful gums caused by gingivitis. But more serious, potentially fatal diseases join the ranks of CF including endocarditis, or inflammation of the heart, as well as infections from artificial hip and pacemaker implants.

Waters and his coauthors grew 6,000 biofilms in petri dishes, added in tobramycin along with many different compounds, to see what worked better at killing the bacteria. Twenty-five potential compounds were effective, but one stood out.

“It’s well known that triclosan, when used by itself, isn’t effective at killing Pseudomonas aeruginosa,” says coauthor Alessandra Hunt, a postdoctoral associate of microbiology and molecular genetics. “But when I saw it listed as a possible compound to use with tobramycin, I was intrigued. We found triclosan was the one that worked every time.”

Triclosan has been used for more than 40 years in soaps, makeup, and other commercial products because of its antibacterial properties. Recently, the FDA ruled to limit its use in soaps and hand sanitizers due to insufficient data on its increased effectiveness and concern about overuse. Clear evidence has shown, though, that its use in toothpaste is safe and highly effective in fighting gingivitis, and it is still approved for use.

“Limiting its use is the right thing to do,” says coauthor Michael Maiden, a graduate student in medicine. “The key is to avoid creating resistance to a substance so when it’s found in numerous products, the chances of that happening increase.”

Tobramycin is currently the most widely used treatment for CF, but it typically doesn’t clear the lungs of infection, Waters says. Patients typically inhale the drug, yet still find themselves chronically infected their whole lives, eventually needing a lung transplant.

“Most transplants aren’t a viable option though for these patients and those who do have a transplant see a 50 percent failure rate within five years,” he says. “The other issue is that tobramycin can be toxic itself.” Known side effects from the drug include kidney toxicity and hearing loss.

“Our triclosan finding gives doctors another potential option and allows them to use significantly less of the tobramycin in treatment, potentially reducing its use by 100 times,” Hunt says.

Within the next year, Waters and his colleagues will begin testing the effectiveness of the combination therapy on mice with hopes of it heading to a human trial soon after since both drugs are already FDA approved.

Just brushing your teeth with toothpaste that has triclosan won’t help to treat lung infections though, Maiden says.

“We’re working to get this potential therapy approved so we can provide a new treatment option for CF patients, as well as treat other biofilm infections that are now untreatable. We think this can save lives,” he says.

The research appears in the journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy.

The National Institutes of Health, Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, and Hunt for a Cure in Grand Rapids, Michigan funded the research.

Source: Michigan State University

Defining chronic Pseudomonas aeruginosa infection in cystic fibrosis

By Valerie Waters and Keith Grimwood

Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a genetic, multi-system disease due to mutations in the cystic fibrosis conductance regulator (CFTR) gene, leading to ineffective anion channel activity [1]. The resulting impaired mucociliary clearance permits initial acquisition of Pseudomonas aeruginosa and, if untreated, the establishment of persistent infection in the CF airways. It has long been recognized that chronic infection, often characterized by a mucoid P. aeruginosa phenotype, is associated with more rapid lung function decline and earlier death in individuals with CF [[2], [3], [4]]. Defining chronic P. aeruginosa infection is, therefore, an important step in identifying CF patients most at risk of lung disease progression. Traditionally, the Leed’s criteria has been used to define chronicity (as having >50% of sputum cultures being P. aeruginosa positive in the preceding 12 months), as it is the only clinically validated definition [5]. However, the Leed’s criteria are difficult to implement in young children unable to provide sputum and further limited by the required number of sputum samples and follow-up time [6].

In this issue of the Journal, studies by Heltshe et al. and Boutin et al. aim to re-define what chronic P. aeruginosa infection means in CF. In a retrospective cohort study using data from the US CF Foundation Patient Registry, Heltshe et al. followed close to 6000 early-diagnosed CF children for approximately 6 years [7]. Two-thirds acquired P. aeruginosa infection and of those, 6% had an initial mucoid phenotype. Furthermore, the majority (87%) of children who developed mucoid infection did so before meeting the definition of chronic infection (at least 3 yearly quarters P. aeruginosa positive in the preceding year). Initial P. aeruginosa infection with a mucoid phenotype has been previously described and is a recognized risk factor for failure of antimicrobial eradication therapy [[8], [9], [10]]. Whether this initial acquisition of a mucoid phenotype represents prior adaptation of P. aeruginosa in the CF host (either undetected or transmitted from a patient with chronic infection) or simply infection with an environmental strain particularly well-suited to the CF airways, is as of yet unknown [11]. It is clear, though, that mucoid P. aeruginosa does have an adaptive advantage in early CF infection as mucoidy was associated with an almost three-fold increased risk of transition to chronic infection in this current study. Despite the presence of this risk factor, however, only 13% of P. aeruginosa infected patients went on to develop chronic infection. Although Heltshe et al. did not provide details as to eradication strategies used in this cohort, this low incidence of persistent infection does speak to the overall effectiveness of current antimicrobial treatment for early P. aeruginosa infection.

Boutin et al. took their investigation a step further by using molecular methods, specifically quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR), to define chronic P. aeruginosa infection [12]. In their study, patients with chronic infection had significantly higher levels of P. aeruginosa as measured by qPCR compared to those with intermittent infection. A single P. aeruginosa qPCR measurement in sputum had a sensitivity of 84% (with a specificity of 85%) in detecting chronic infection using a threshold of 103.4 colony forming units (CFU)/ml. A single sputum PCR measure had the advantage of not requiring 12 months of culture results as per the Leed’s criteria [5]. Furthermore, in their small study sample size, PCR was more discriminatory than mucoidy status in predicting chronicity, not surprisingly, given that alginate production (conferring mucoidy) is only one of several virulence factors contributing to the establishment of persistent P. aeruginosa infection in CF [13]. When used in throat swab samples, qPCR had a considerably lower sensitivity (82%) and specificity (56%) in detecting chronic infection, likely due in part to the lower bacterial burden observed in this specimen, compared to sputum. The low specificity of PCR in this setting (positive PCR, negative culture) may reflect the fact that a molecular signal may precede culture positivity. Early detection of P. aeruginosa infection, before culture conversion, in CF patients was originally suggested decades ago using serologic and, more recently, molecular methods [[14], [15], [16]]. Serology, however, has proven disappointing at identifying early P. aeruginosa infection [17]. Nevertheless, early detection may still be possible using highly-sensitive PCR techniques for identifying lower airway P. aeruginosa infection in a young, non-expectorating child. In the study by Boutin et al., P. aeruginosa detection in throat swabs by PCR alone was linked to a positive culture in sputum in three-quarters of cases. Previous studies comparing oropharyngeal cultures to bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) cultures in children with CF demonstrated that oropharyngeal cultures had a positive predictive value of only 44%, but a negative predictive value of 95% in diagnosing lower airway P. aeruginosa infection [18]. Performing P. aeruginosa qPCR on culture negative throat swabs may further improve the diagnosis of lower airway infection in young children with CF who are unable to produce sputum, but this approach will still need to be validated by comparative studies employing BAL fluid samples. Unfortunately, using confirmatory induced sputum samples as suggested by Boutin et al., may produce unreliable results as these specimens are poor predictors of lower airway pathogens cultured from BAL specimens in young children with CF [19]. Finally, it is yet to be determined whether an earlier diagnosis of P. aeruginosa infection leads to improved eradication success rates and superior clinical outcomes.

In summary, the recent studies by Heltshe et al. and Boutin et al. further our understanding of how chronic P. aeruginosa infection develops in CF and how to better recognize it [7,12]. Ultimately, prevention of chronic P. aeruginosa infection and its deleterious effects on lung function and survival is the goal.

Original article in Journal of Cystic Fibrosis here.

Potential Therapy for Infections in CF Gets Patent

AB569Arch Biopartners’ treatment candidate for bacterial infections in patients with cystic fibrosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and other respiratory conditions, has received a U.S. patent.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office issued patent 9,925,206 to the University of Cincinnati, which granted Arch Biopartners an exclusive commercial license on all patents related to AB569. The inventor is Daniel Hassett, PhD, a principal scientist at Arch and professor at the University of Cincinnati College Of Medicine.

“This patent issuance, which protects the composition of AB569, gives Arch a stronger commercial position to pursue treating not just CF patients, but also the millions of other patients that have chronic antibiotic resistant lung infections including those with COPD,” Richard Muruve, CEO of Arch, said in a press release. “It also opens the door for Arch to develop treatments for many other indications where antibiotic resistance is a problem, such as urinary tract infections and wound care.”

Bacterial infections in the lungs are a serious problem in patients with CF, COPD, or ventilator-associated pneumonia. Cystic fibrosis patients are susceptible to bacterial respiratory infections as a result of abnormal mucus production in the lungs and airways.

In particular, the bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa (P. aeruginosa) affects most adult CF patients and 40 percent of CF children ages 6 to 10. The mucoid form of P. aeruginosa is highly resistant to conventional antibiotics and immune-mediated killing. It causes a rapid decline in lung function and a poor overall clinical prognosis.

Antibiotic use in the treatment of CF and COPD patients with chronic bacterial respiratory infections is increasing, which correlates with a higher prevalence of antibiotic-resistant strains.

AB569 is a non-antibiotic therapy made of sodium nitrite and ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA), two compounds approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for human use. The treatment has a different mechanism of action from antibiotics that may increase effectiveness, Arch believes.

“AB569 has two active ingredients that produce a dramatic and synergistic effect at killing many antibiotic resistant bacteria including Pseudomonas aeruginosa (P. aeruginosa), which commonly causes severe chronic infections in the lungs of cystic fibrosis (CF) and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients,” Hassett said. “AB569 has the potential to make a significant medical impact on treating infection where traditional antibiotics fail.”

In preclinical experiments, the therapy showed significant ability to kill several types of Gram-negative and Gram-positive bacteria.

The safety and pharmacokinetics of a single administration of nebulized AB569 are now being evaluated in a Phase 1 clinical trial with up to 25 healthy volunteers at the Cincinnati Veterans Affairs Medical Center (CVAMC). Pharmacokinetics refers to how a drug is absorbed, distributed, metabolized, and expelled by the body. Enrollment of volunteers started in February.

If the Phase 1 study provides positive results, the company plans to start a Phase 2 trial to test the effectiveness of AB569 in the treatment of chronic lung infections caused by P. aeruginosa and other bacterial pathogens in CF and/or COPD patients.

AB569 previously received orphan drug status from the FDA for the treatment of CF patients infected with P. aeruginosa, and orphan medicinal product designation from the European Medicines Agency.

For original article, click here.

Study Links CF Patients’ Airway Bacteria with Disease Outcomes

By: Diogo Pinto

Researchers have linked variations in the mix of microorganisms in cystic fibrosis patients’ airways to their disease outcomes.

The findings in the journal PLOS One were in an article titled “Fluctuations in airway bacterial communities associated with clinical states and disease stages in cystic fibrosis.

CF patients typically have particular strains of bacterial and fungus in their airways. The usual bacteria suspects include PseudomonasAchromobacterBurkholderiaHaemophilusStaphylococcus, and Stenotrophomonas.

Other bacteria and fungi also inhabit CF patients’ airways, however. These include anaerobic species that do not need oxygen to grow and spread.

Not only do the microbial communities in CF patients’ airways vary by type of microorganism, but also in the relative abundance of each species.

Researchers decide to see if the prevalence and relative abundance of typical CF pathogens and anaerobic microorganisms play a role in the severity of patients’ disease and their lung function.

They analyzed 631 sputum samples collected over 10 years from 111 patients.

The team classified the stage of patients’ disease on the basis of their lung function scores. The yardstick they used was forced expiratory volume in one second, or FEV1. They considered an early stage of the disease to be an FEV1 score higher than 70, an intermediate stage a score of 40 to 70, and an advanced stage a score lower than 40.

Researchers classified disease aggressiveness — mild, moderate or severe — on the basis of change in FEV1 relative to age.

They discovered a link between variations in the prevalance of the six typical CF pathogens, plus nine anaerobic species, and changes in a patient’s disease stage and lung function.

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