Due to many cystic fibrosis patients dying from chronic pulmonary infections, an Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences researcher is looking at ways to prevent deadly bacteria from invading the lungs.
“My primary aim is to learn more about the basic biology of bacteria and come up with novel ways to combat them,” said Franklin Champlin, Ph.D., associate professor of microbiology at OSU-CHS. “We want to better understand how certain types of bacteria cause opportunistic infections in the lungs of cystic fibrosis patients and determine the factors that make them so virulent.”
Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disease that causes the body to produce unusually thick and sticky mucus that lead to chronic lung infections. It can affect the lungs, intestines, liver, pancreas and kidneys.
About 70,000 people worldwide and 30,000 people in the United States are living with the disease and approximately 1,000 new cases are diagnosed each year, according to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. There is no cure for the frequently fatal disorder.
Champlin is particularly interested in why the antimicrobial agents used to fight infections are able to enter some bacterial cells but not others.
“Cystic fibrosis patients have compromised immune systems, lacking the ability to fight off bacterial infections like a normal, healthy adult,” he said. “The bacteria that set up these chronic infections do so because they have certain chemical and physical properties that take advantage of the situation.”
Champlin, who also is professor emeritus of microbiology at Mississippi State University, has narrowed his research to two antimicrobial agents – daptomycin and triclosan. Daptomycin is an effective antibiotic, but only for one group of bacteria.
“In our research, we have come up with a chemical procedure that enables us to extend the spectrum of this antibiotic,” he said. “We administer this compound in the lab with other chemicals that enhance effectiveness against other bacteria that are present in cystic fibrosis patients.”
Champlin also is interested in the antimicrobial compound triclosan because it is potent against a broad array of bacteria. The antiseptic is widely used in soaps, lotions, plastics and cosmetics.
“We’re interested in how this molecule is able to invade most types of bacteria and the mechanism preventing it from affecting other types of bacteria,” he said. “In researching this, we have been able to learn a lot about the physiology of the bacteria cells.”
By learning what makes these deadly bacteria cause infections and what mechanisms deter certain compounds from eliminating them, Champlin believes scientists can develop treatments that will more effectively combat lung infections in cystic fibrosis patients.
“We are very excited about learning more about the basic biology of certain bacteria and how to better deal with these organisms,” he said.
To learn more about Champlin’s research on lung infections in cystic fibrosis patients, visit the OSU Center for Health Sciences Research Spotlight website at http://www.healthsciences.okstate.edu/researchspotlight/.