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Pacifying bacteria prevents lethal post-op infections

Dtente, and a good fence, can be far more effective than all-out assault in the age-old war between man and microbe, University of Chicago researchers report in the February issue of Gastroenterology. By injecting a protective coating into the intestines to pacify bacteria there instead of relying on antibiotics to kill them, the scientists were able to protect mice from otherwise lethal infections.

The protective coating, a high-molecular-weight polyethylene glycol, protected mice who had had major surgery from infection with Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a virulent pathogen that quickly kills 100 percent of untreated mice. A Pseudomonas infection is one of the most lethal complications for patients after major surgery.

"If you can't beat them -- and you can't -- then you want to indulge them," says John Alverdy, M.D., associate professor of surgery at the University of Chicago and director of the study. "An unhappy parasite is programmed to kill the host and move on. So we decided to look for ways to gratify them, to please these powerful microbes and keep them content."

Pseudomonas aeruginosa is common, found in the intestines of about three percent of healthy people. It is also a frequent cause of hospital-acquired infections, especially after major surgery. In the bowel, this germ can be harmless, or it can turn deadly, causing gut-derived sepsis.

"This is a disease of human progress," explains Alverdy. When people are severely ill "we put them in intensive care, where almost every thing we do alarms these bacterial passengers."

Suddenly nutrients no longer pass through the intestines but are dripped directly into the blood stream. The bowel decreases its activity, rendering it far less able to contain the toxic effects of certain strains of bacteria. At the same time, the intestine undergoes erosion of its protective mucus coating.

"Bacteria are smart enough to sense this change and re-program their strate
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Contact: John Easton
jeaston@uchospitals.edu
773-702-6241
University of Chicago Medical Center
1-Feb-2004


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