CONTACT: JENNIFER CRONIN
2130 Medical Laboratories
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 335-5661; fax (319) 335-9917
UI researcher outlines need for bacterial biofilm research
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Physicians routinely prescribe antibiotics
to treat bacterial infections; however, such treatment is generally ineffective
if bacteria cluster in colonies called biofilms. Now that researchers are beginning
to understand biofilms, the scientific community must focus attention on developing
therapeutic agents to combat biofilm infections, a University of Iowa researcher
wrote in the cover story for the May 21 issue of Science.
"It has become more and more clear that we need to begin
to think of bacteria in groups working together," said E. Peter Greenberg, Ph.D.,
UI professor of microbiology and co-author of the Science article. "This article
is really an announcement to the scientific community. It's time to think about
and attack the medical biofilm problem."
Biofilms are organized groups of bacteria that work together
to defend against attack from antibiotics and the body's immune system. Biofilms
can grow from a bacterium that attaches to a surface, such as a cell lining
a blood vessel. The bacterium may then begin to multiply and spread across the
surface. When the cells reach a certain density, they build a complex biofilm
A number of infections involve biofilms, from common problems
such as dental caries and infections caused by contact lenses, medical devices
and sutures to infections associated with cystic fibrosis. Antibiotics often
provide some relief from symptoms but fail to cure the basic ongoing infection,
The Science article by Greenberg and his colleagues at Montana
State University comes in the wake of the National Institutes of Health announcement
to make biofilm research a priority.
While scientists have been tackling bacterial infections
for more than a half century, it wasn't until the past decade or so that the
scientific community began to appreciate that bacteria organize themselves in
elaborate ways, such as biofilms.
"It has been like an embarrassment swept under the rug that
nobody wants to deal with because it's harder to attack the problem if you have
to worry about things working in groups," Greenberg said.
Any battle plan against biofilm infections will need to
involve strategies for compromising the bacteria's sense of community, Greenberg
"If we can target the community's signaling-based agents,
we might be able to prevent the formation, or promote the detachment, of the
biofilm," he said.
Greenberg and his colleagues
are using this strategy against Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which cause chronic
and serious lung infections in people with cystic fibrosis. Last year the researchers
discovered a signal molecule essential for that biofilm's development.
"New clues about biofilm formation increase our understanding
of pseudomonas and offer tremendous insights toward therapies," said Robert
J. Beall, Ph.D., president and chief executive officer of the Cystic Fibrosis
Foundation. "This type of infection represents the chief cause of morbidity
and mortality for all those battling cystic fibrosis; therefore, we hope to
quickly convert promising insights into innovative new treatments."
The UI team is now working to determine if this finding
for Pseudomonas aeruginosa can be generalized to other bacteria and, if so,
how the information might be used to dislodge or impair the biofilms. This information
might then enable researchers to find ways to produce more effective antibiotics
or novel therapeutic approaches to fight bacterial infections.
Work in the authors' laboratories is supported by the Cystic
Fibrosis Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and the National Science