Don`t smoke while feeding the birds: new research on lung disease

Scientists are developing a method that could prevent lung infections in people who smoke, according to a paper presented today (Wednesday 18 September) at the Society for General Microbiology autumn meeting at Loughborough University.

“We’ve used a human tissue model to show how we can prevent Mycobacterium avium complex (MAC) bacteria from invading cells in the lungs. These bacteria attach themselves to mucus and damaged tissue lining the lungs, and often cause infections in people with existing lung diseases, such as those caused by smoking” says Dr Andrew Middleton, formerly of the Royal Brompton Hospital, London.

MAC is closely related to Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which causes tuberculosis. MAC bacteria are commonly picked up from the environment and cause infections in people with damaged lungs. MAC infections are very difficult to treat and involve the use of toxic antibiotics that have unpleasant side effects. Often treatment lasts up to two years.

Dr Middleton explains, “By pre-incubating tissue cells with fibronectin attachment proteins (FAPs) we can stop MAC from sticking to and infecting cells. Interestingly, FAPs also stop M. tuberculosis from sticking to cells, but don’t prevent it from infecting cells.”

“This work indicates areas that can be explored to help patients with MAC infection. We have also been successful in developing a laboratory system for further studying tuberculosis. The long-term benefit of our work may be to improve the quality of life of infected people, or even prevent MAC infections in patients who are predisposed to mycobacterial infections. It could be possible to develop inhaled attachment inhibitors or vaccines to work alongside antibiotic therapies,” says Dr Middleton.

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