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Healthy lungs' microbes focus of study on cystic fibrosis

Healthy people's lungs are home to a diverse community of microbes that differs markedly from the bacteria found in the lungs of cystic fibrosis patients. That's the result of new research from Stanford University and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital, which has wide implications for treatment of cystic fibrosis and other lung diseases.

"The lung is not a sterile organ," said David Cornfield, MD, an author of the new study, published Sept. 26 in Science Translational Medicine. Although decades of received scientific wisdom said healthy lungs lacked resident microbes, scientists had begun questioning that notion. "This research confirmed a long-held suspicion that a forest of microbes exists in both healthy and diseased lungs," said Cornfield, a pulmonologist at Packard Children's and a professor of pediatrics in pulmonary medicine at the School of Medicine. "More surprising, our data presents a suggestion that the lung flora provides microbial homeostasis that might function to preserve health."

Healthy lungs' microbes have been overlooked in part because past research has focused heavily on lung diseases, Cornfield said. Another flaw in prior studies was a bias toward looking for micro-organisms that could be grown in labs. Many of the types of microbes that the Stanford researchers found in healthy lungs have never been cultured in a laboratory.

In contrast, a large body of research had previously shown chronic microbial colonization in the lungs of people with cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease characterized by serious, progressive lung problems and death from respiratory failure. For instance, CF patients are vulnerable to chronic infection with the bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which can cause pneumonia.
 
 

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