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Scientist Finds Link between Antibiotics and Bacterial Biofilm Formation Cause of Chronic Ear, Sinus, and Lung Infections

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Researchers from the University of Southern California and the Oak Crest Institute of Science have discovered the link between antibiotics and bacterial biofilm formation leading to chronic lung, sinus and ear infections. The study results, published in the current issue of PLOS ONE, illustrate how bacterial biofilms can actually thrive, rather than decrease, when given low doses of antibiotics.

“This research addresses the long standing issues surrounding chronic ear infections and why some children experience repeated ear infections even after antibiotic treatment,” said Paul Webster, Ph.D., lead author, senior staff scientist at USC and senior faculty at the Oak Crest Institute of Science. “Once the biofilm forms, it becomes stronger with each treatment of antibiotics.”

During the study, non-typeable Haemophilus influenza (NTHi) bacteria a common pathogen of humans was exposed to non-lethal doses of ampicillin, a class of antibiotics commonly used to treat respiratory, sinus and ear infections, or other beta-lactam antibiotics. The dose of the antibiotic was not enough to kill the bacteria which allowed the bacteria to react to the antibiotic by producing glycogen, a complex sugar often used by bacteria as a food source, to produce stronger biofilms when grown in the laboratory.

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