Anti-inflammatories found naturally in the body give antibiotics a boost
Researchers investigate what may be a natural side-kick in the fight against bacterial infections.
Kern: The number of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics continues to escalate, and with it, increases in the number of hospitalizations and healthcare costs. But scientists are coming up with new ways to reduce the amount of antibiotic needed to fight infections, making it less likely that a bacteria will become resistant. Dr. Richard Okita is a program director at the NIH's National Institute of General Medical Sciences. He comments on a recent study published by Dr. Charles Serhan of Brigham and Women's Hospital in which a group of molecules found naturally in the body were used to help fight off an E. Coli infection in mice.
Okita: So if it's a low grade bacterial infection and these molecules are released, what he's found is that the amount of antibiotic that is needed to remove the bacteria from the site is actually less which was really surprising.
Kern: The molecules are called specialized pro-resolving mediators or SPMs for short. Resolve is the key word here; they put an end to acute inflammation before it becomes chronic and harmful to tissues. So how do they work?
When foreign bacteria enter the body, the body's initiates an inflammatory response. Part of this response involves white blood cells which rush to the site of the infection and begin gobbling up the bacteria. SPMs aid this process by increasing the rate at which white blood cells can consume bacteria. As a result, the duration of the inflammatory response is decreased.
Okita: What they dream of is that these molecules may assist antibiotics to help them do their job of killing bacteria. So they will be an additive but in doing so they'll be able to allow the body to respond quicker to that antibiotic.
Kern: In addition to helping get rid of the bacteria, SPMs also help dampen the inflammatory response. At the same time that white blood cells are gobbling up bacteria, they start producing proteins that actually increase inflammation. SPMs can inhibit the production of these proteins.
Interestingly, SPMs are derived from polyunsaturated fatty acids such as Omega-3s which are found in foods such as salmon, sardines, flax seeds, and walnuts. The new findings by Dr. Serhan may help explain some of these foods exceptional health benefits.
Dr. Okita: You know, to me the exciting part is 20 years ago, everybody used to talk about fish oils, omega-3 fatty acids. That's all you saw was omega-3 fatty acids and now w're getting a better understanding how the body uses the fish oil in human health, how do these molecules really help us in different states.
Kern: Dr. Serhan is also currently looking into how SPMs could help with treatment of chronic inflammatory diseases such as macular degeneration. One advantage of SPMs over typical anti-inflammatory such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and steroids, is that unlike these drugs, SPMS don't suppress the immune system. For more information on SPMs, go to www.nigms.nih.gov. For NIH radio, I'm Margot Kern— NIH...Turning Discovery Into Health®