In a ground-breaking finding, researchers effectively manipulated human immune cells to replicate an infection common in immunocompromised people, paving the possibility for new medication testing and treatments.
The Murdoch Children’s Research Institute’s study, which was published in Stem Cell Reports, employed cutting-edge stem cell technology to better understand how the infection affects immune cells and results in health issues in immunocompromised individuals, particularly those with cystic fibrosis, such as lung, skin, and soft tissue infections.
Dr Shicheng Jacky Sun, a Murdoch Children’s researcher, stated that the immune cell type the team made in the lab, known as a macrophage, played an essential part in infection, inflammation, and regeneration. However, because of this function, it was also a natural host for pathogens.
“Using our stem cell-made immune cells, we successfully infected them with a germ called mycobacteria. We could see where these mycobacteria live inside human immune cells and the immune reactions they triggered,” he adds.
“We were also able to use our stem cell model to rapidly test and screen different types of antibiotics against mycobacterium.”
Dr. Sohinee Sarkar of Murdoch Children’s Research Institute remarked that the lack of infection models to test novel therapies had previously impeded the hunt for viable treatments.
In addition to causing skin and soft tissue infections in persons with immune weaknesses, mycobacteria also opportunistically infect people with lung illnesses such as cystic fibrosis.
“Current treatments take months and involve giving cocktails of different antibiotics with wide-ranging toxicities. Treatments often fail as the infection is highly resistant to antibiotics, leaving infected people with few other options. Patients with mycobacteria are also excluded from receiving life-saving lung transplants.”
Repeated cycles of infection could severely harm the lung tissue and hasten the course of lung failure in people with cystic fibrosis, according to Dr. Sarkar, who noted the high risk of treatment failure.
For kids with cystic fibrosis, in particular, improved therapies could mean fewer trips to the hospital, shorter hospitalizations, and less exposure to potentially dangerous antibiotics, she said.
Data shows that 11% of children with cystic fibrosis have mycobacteria in their bodies.
According to Dr. Sarkar, the infection model could be used to test drugs for other superbugs that have few therapeutic options.
She explained that because some bacteria have evolved to evade our immune system by concealing themselves within host cells, it is challenging to treat these infections with conventional antibiotics.
“Our stem cell-based infection model can be readily scaled up to screen large number of drugs against such bacteria to identify new treatments.”
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