The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has granted $2.7 million to Michigan State University (MSU) scientist Robert Quinn to investigate, in collaboration with Spectrum Health, the role of anaerobic bacteria in the development of flare-ups among patients with cystic fibrosis (CF).
Anaerobic bacteria are a type of bacteria that live without oxygen, and are frequently present in the lungs of patients with CF. However, little is known about their role as a pathogen or contributor to the development of the disease.
Despite the fact that anaerobic bacteria are found in all CF patients, their presence is often dismissed by physicians and scientists as a non-factor.
During flare-ups, which refer to periods of increased symptom severity (disease exacerbation) and loss of lung capacity, there is a turnover in bacterial populations. Interestingly, while some bacterial species die, anaerobic bacteria start to thrive and dominate during flare-ups.
Due to the high burden of bacteria and chronic lung infections in patients with CF, physicians treat patients with increasingly aggressive antibiotics, which is the traditional approach to treat infections in CF.
However, “many doctors treating patients aren’t aware of these anaerobes,” Quinn, MSU assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, and leader of the grant, said in a news story.
“There’s still plenty of guesswork in treating CF. Antibiotics are prescribed, flare-ups temporarily subside and the patient gets to leave the hospital; but sometimes they don’t improve and doctors don’t understand why,” Quinn added.
This has prompted Quinn’s team to focus on the lesser-known aspects of the CF lung bacterial population — anaerobic bacteria.
“We believe that physicians have not been treating the principal cause of the flare-ups — the anaerobes,” Quinn said.
By collaborating with Spectrum Health, an integrated health system with a network of hospitals and core facilities in Southwest and West Michigan, scientists at MSU will be able to gather samples from CF patients in order to study the bacterial population and dynamics that drive the disease.
Additionally, the researchers will use a new CF model that was recently developed at MSU, which mimics a CF-infected lung and allows them to conduct studies in a more realistic model.
The team will also use innovative bioinformatics data analysis platforms, sequencing of the microbiome (the population of bacteria that reside in the lung), and metabolomics (the study of metabolism in organisms) to gain more insight into the bacterial dynamics within a CF lung.
“Our scientific rationale is that a better understanding of what causes microbial changes during these flare-ups will lead to more efficacious and targeted therapy against pathogens,” Quinn said.
He added that it is important to treat not only the underlying cause of CF — the mutations that cause the disease — but also the lung infections in order to achieve long-lasting results.
“We must use a dual approach of treating the underlying cause and targeting lung infections if we want to ever eliminate the disease,” Quinn said.