Researchers have found evidence that a hormone produced in the liver can help fight a bacteria that causes pneumonia, according to Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News.

Mehrad and his team, including colleagues at the University of California, Los Angeles, found that mice that had been genetically modified to lack hepcidin were particularly susceptible to bacterial pneumonia. Nearly all of the mice had the pneumonia bacteria spread from the lungs into their bloodstream, ultimately killing them. “It’s the exact same thing that happens in people,” Mehrad said. “The mice that lacked the hormone weren’t able to hide iron away from the bacteria, and we think that’s why the bacteria did so well in the blood.”

Researcher Kathryn Michels, a graduate student in Mehrad’s lab and the first author of a study (“Hepcidin-Mediated Iron Sequestration Protects against Bacterial Dissemination during Pneumonia”), published in JCI Insight”), outlining the findings, noted that many people lack the hormone because of genetic illnesses or liver disease. “It’s quite common,” she said. “We think this line of research is very relevant to the many people who can’t make this hormone very well and are, clinically, very susceptible to these infections.”