A new study suggests that cystic fibrosis (CF) medications may carry an unexpected long-term benefit. The research from the University of Edinburgh shows that these medications may make lung infections develop to be less harmful in the long run.
Scientists from the University of Edinburgh, studied the way bacteria that infect the lungs of patients with CF gather nutrients from their surroundings. This builds on the knowledge that most bacteria co-operate to scavenge what they need from their environment, but some bacteria do not actively hunt, and instead steal nutrients from neighboring bacteria.
The study found that the co-operating type of bacteria is most common in a viscous environment similar to thick mucus. However, in a more liquid environment, similar to mucus having been broken down by medicine, the number of thieving bacteria increases, eventually outnumbering the scavenging type. Because the thieving bacteria are less skillful at obtaining food, the bacterial growth slows down in this more liquid environment.
These results suggest that liquefying lung mucus may limit the impact of infection in CF.
"Treating cystic fibrosis patients with drugs that clear their lungs delivers short-term relief for the patient, but may have long-term health benefits too. We hope that our findings will underline the need for treatments that target mucus in the lungs," said lead researcher Rolf Kuemmerli, PhD, in an announcement about the findings.