Researchers from the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor have released findings revealing that a cocktail of naturally occurring, non-pathogenic gut bacteria from healthy humans can protect against dangerous E. coli O157:H7 infection in animal models.
The research, presented at the 2013 General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in Denver, Colorado, used mice as an experimental model. Two groups of mice were infected with E. coli O157:H7, one of which had been pre-colonised with a mixture of intestinal bacteria from humans. This group remained healthy, while the control group developed kidney disease within a week.
The researchers found that the normal human gut microflora prevented the accumulation of toxins produced by the pathogen (shigatoxins). If these toxins are allowed to reach high enough levels they are absorbed into the bloodstream and can cause haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS), a potentially fatal kidney disease.
The findings could explain why not everyone infected with E. coli O157:H7 develops HUS and may also help in the development of an effective treatment for the disease.
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