Researchers based at the University of Birmingham and Newcastle University in the UK have developed an alternative treatment for patients suffering from a rare lung disease caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria. This could provide a significant breakthrough in the fight against antibiotic resistance, which claims thousands of victims worldwide every year.
The scientists were able to improve the health of a 65-year-old man and a 69-year-old woman suffering from bronchiectasis since adolescence with a new treatment pathway not using antibiotics.
Bronchiectasis is a rare lung disease that is resistant to several types of antibiotics. The disease, which causes a chronic cough, shortness of breath and chest pains, can be caused by bacteria called P. aeruginosa, known to be resistant to antibiotics and associated with several serious illnesses. P. aeruginosa account for 10 to 11% of bacteria responsible for hospital-acquired infections.
The researchers used a process called plasmapheresis, similar to kidney dialysis, to remove, treat and return blood plasma to patients five times a week in order to remove a particular antibody. Antibodies were then replaced via blood donations. This treatment was found to restore the patients’ ability to fight the bacteria, reducing the effects of chronic infection quickly and significantly without using antibiotics and with reduced hospitalisation time.
“These patients had an excess of a particular antibody in the bloodstream. In contrast to the protective effect normally associated with antibody, in these patients, the antibody stopped the immune system killing the Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacterium and this worsened the patients’ lung disease. Perhaps counter-intuitively, we decided to remove this antibody from the bloodstream and the outcomes were wholly positive,” explains professor Ian Henderson of the University of Birmingham.
More generally, this type of treatment could help reduce reliance on antibiotics. The scientists conclude that more extensive studies are required to establish whether earlier intervention using this technique could prevent the progression of the disease.
In November 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) sounded the alarm on increasing antibiotic resistance, which is reaching dangerously high levels in all parts of the world, claiming thousands of victims each year.
The study was published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.
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