Stopping Chronic Infection at the Microbial Level
Out-of-control slime is not just the stuff of B movies—it is the substance of real-life horror stories.
Almost all known disease-causing bacteria can form biofilms: slime-covered communities of microbes that stick to each other and to surfaces. This common form of microbial life causes many chronic infections that are highly resistant to antibiotics.
As Canada Research Chair in Biofilm Microbiology and Genomics, Dr. Joe Harrison is trying to understand how one particular bacterium, Pseudomonas aeruginosa (known as P. aeruginosa), senses and responds to signals that ramp up biofilm growth and cause genetic changes among bacteria. These mechanisms are linked to the rapid growth of biofilms associated with many chronic infections.
For example, P. aeruginosa builds biofilms in the airways of those suffering from cystic fibrosis (CF), a genetic disease that affects approximately 70,000 people worldwide and costs Canada tens of millions of dollars in health-care costs annually. Most CF sufferers ultimately die from chronic lung infection, as there is no known antibiotic therapy for these infections.
By studying P. aeruginosa, Harrison’s research will lead to a deeper understanding of chronic infectious diseases like CF, including the factors that contribute to their resistance to antibiotics.
Harrison hopes this research will lead to new treatments that improve the quality of life for Canadians suffering from chronic diseases while also reducing health-care costs.