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Friendly bacteria may help slow down disease progression in cystic fibrosis patients

Posted May 1, 2014

Cystic fibrosis is one of the most devastating genetic diseases that results in high morbidity and early mortality of patients. Genetic factors involved in the disease have been known for a long time. However, scientists now suggest that environmental factors may be nearly as important. Above all, maintaining a diverse population of friendly bacteria may help to slow down disease progression, with anticipation that better treatments will become available in the future.

Credit: Hey Paul Studios via Flickr CC BY 2.0

Credit: Hey Paul Studios via Flickr CC BY 2.0

Our microbiome is an important player in our health and wellbeing. In fact, a healthy population of microbes has been associated with a strong immune system, lower risk of inflammatory diseases and cancer, and other health benefits. A new study published in Microbiome this week, advocates microbiome composition may also be the key in controlling overwhelming symptoms in cystic fibrosis patients.

The scientists reveal that microbial composition, which rapidly develops and peaks during childhood, is much richer in pediatric cystic fibrosis patients than adults. Over 100 different microbial genera, which are found in children, decline rapidly during the second decade of life. This also happens when the respiratory system of affected patients becomes dominated by pathogenic bacteria, such as Pseudomonus aeruginosa.

P. aeruginosa is an opportunistic pathogen, which a causes chronic infection in most patients. Barely responsive to antibiotic therapy, repeated P. aeruginosa infections eventually lead to respiratory failure. Interestingly though, while overall disease progression is somewhat predictable, some patients keep relatively healthy until their 30s, while others are in need of a lung transplant as early as their teens.

The authors suggest that a rich microbial community might be the key to keeping antibiotic-resistant infections at bay, which should be the highest priority aim for novel therapies.

Microbial composition in cystic fibrosis have been shown to develop in response to environmental pressures. Remarkably, of all participants in the study, siblings in the same households had very similar microbiomes, as compared to individuals living apart. Thus, bacterial communities are likely to respond to aimed therapies as well, such as probiotics or more specific regiments in young patients.

Boosting the load of friendly bacteria in the lungs could be profound in further increasing the life expectancy of cystic fibrosis patients, creating more tomorrows before a better cure becomes available.

Story by Egle Marija Ramanauskaite

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