Just as there are beneficial bacteria that live in our digestive tracts, a good dose of microbes may also be essential for healthy lungs, according to research by HHMI investigator Stephen Quake.
Quake and his team at Stanford University compared microbes in patients with cystic fibrosis to those in healthy human lungs. Cystic fibrosis causes the lungs to produce sticky, thick mucus—a perfect breeding ground for bacteria. Surprisingly, the healthy lungs contained a wider variety of microbes than the diseased lungs. The team also discovered that patients with cystic fibrosis have a distinct microbial profile, with bacteria so unique they can be used to distinguish cystic fibrosis patients from individuals without the disease. The results were published September 2012 in Science Translational Medicine.
Quake doesn’t know whether the differences in lung bacteria might be due to heavy use of antibiotics by cystic fibrosis patients, for example, or due to the lung disease itself. However, the results do suggest that certain microbes may benefit lung health. Next, the research team plans to see if the microbiomes can be correlated to lung function in cystic fibrosis patients.