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Monday, 7 January, 2002, 16:16 GMT
Hope for cystic fibrosis
Pseudomonas aeruginosa
Pseudomonas aeruginosa can form deadly colonies
Scientists believe they have found a way to thwart the build up of life-threatening bacterial colonies in the body.

The breakthrough could lead to new treatments for the lung condition cystic fibrosis, among others.


We hope that such compounds can be used in the future as an early prophylactic treatment for young cystic fibrosis sufferers

Dr Michael Givskov
Essentially, the scientists have developed a way to stop potentially dangerous bacteria from communicating with each other. This, they believe, can prevent the development of colonies, or biofilms, of bugs.

These biofilms can cause disease when they form, for instance, on the surface of surgical implants or in the lungs of cystic fibrosis patients.

A team of Danish researchers has found that the development of biofilms can be disrupted by a synthetic group of chemicals called furanones.

Biofilm bacteria are protected by a slimy coating which prevents antibiotics clearing the infection.

It also provides a breeding ground where antibiotic resistant strains can emerge.

Bacterium targeted

The new work has been carried out the bug Pseudomonas aeruginosa which can cause serious disease in cystic fibrosis patients.


These organisms just sit behind their wall quietly producing toxins that destroy the lung, and we can't get at them

Dr Anil Mehta
A synthetic furanone compound was found to block the signalling mechanism used by the bacteria to form biofilms.

Researcher Dr Michael Givskov, from the Technical University of Denmark in Copenhagen, said: "We've shown in the lab that our synthetic furanone can not only prevent biofilms growing and enhance detachment of bacteria from existing biofilms, but they also reduce the production of important virulence factors, which allow the bacteria to cause disease."

The synthetic furanone is chemically similar to a natural one produced by a type of marine algae.

Dr Givskov said: "We hope that such compounds can be used in the future as an early prophylactic treatment for young cystic fibrosis sufferers to prevent the formation of damaging biofilms in the lung, thus reducing the severity of infection."

Dr Anil Mehta, director of the Cystic Fibrosis Database at Ninewells Hospital, Dundee, told BBC News Online that the breakthrough could potentially help cystic fibrosis patients to live longer.

He said: "This is one of a number of promising approaches.

"Clearly the development of biofilms is one of the main factors that stops antibiotics working, and leads to multiple resistance.

"These organisms just sit behind their wall quietly producing toxins that destroy the lung, and we can't get at them."

The research is published in the journal Microbiology.

See also:

30 Apr 01 | Health
Cystic fibrosis screening for all
14 Mar 01 | Health
Sniffing out infections
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