Good bugs may have a role to play in treatment of COPD


By Amanda Sheppeard

17 Feb 2016

Balancing both good and bad bacteria in the airways of patients with COPD may reduce inflammation and improve lung health and quality of life, a study has found.

The research, published in Respirology, is one of few to date that have examined the non-pathogenic ‘normal’ respiratory flora in the lower airways.

Lead author, Associate Professor Jodie Simpson of the University of Newcastle and a member of the HMRI Viruses, Infection/Immunity, Vaccine and Asthma (VIVA) Research Program, said the need for microbial balance in the gut was well accepted, and it made sense that the airways would be no different.

“It’s potentially relevant to every site of the body,” she told the limbic. “It’s the same principle – getting the balance is important.”

The researchers collected clinical assessments and sputum samples from 70 adults with COPD and 51 healthy controls.

Unsurprisingly they found COPD participants had increased bacteria load that was associated with poorer respiratory health, but they also found significantly lower levels of the non-pathogenic Bacillus bacterial species, compared with healthy controls.

And it is the absence of this Bacillus bacterial species that has the researchers excited.

“We didn’t really know much about the healthy flora in the airways,” Professor Simpson said.

“Very few people look at all the bacteria – in patients with COPD there is a strong focus on getting rid of the bacteria that causes infection and inflammation.

“But getting rid of all the bacteria means getting rid of the good bacteria.”

She said the results highlighted the importance of further research to identify treatment and management strategies that target specific bacterial pathogens and restore the microbial balance.

“If you have enough of the good guys in there, then maybe the bad guys will be less of a problem,” she said. “There is a possibility that this could help reduce inflammation and improve symptoms and quality of life.

“Having more good bacteria is a good thing but we need a lot more work to identify which bacteria is the most useful. Then we have to work out how to deliver it.”

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