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Common ingredient in toothpaste shows promise in cystic fibrosis

An image of a pseudomonas aeruginosa biofilm
Scott Chimileski and Roberto Kolter, Harvard Medical School, Boston
This image shows an intricate colony of millions of the single-celled bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

Michigan State University researchers have found that a common ingredient in toothpaste may be a game-changing treatment for cystic fibrosis.

Triclosan is an antibacterial agent that has been used in products like soap and toothpaste for more than 40 years.

It's not effective on its own against the bacteria that cause chronic lung infection in cystic fibrosis, Pseudomonas aeruginosa. However, it was highly effective at killing P. aeruginosa when combined with the antibiotic tobramycin.

The bacteria are hard to kill because they form biofilms in the lungs. A bacterial biofilm is a resilient sheet of bacteria that forms on a surface in the body.

People with cystic fibrosis take tobramycin continuously to fight lung infection, but the bacterial biofilm resists treatment and the infection is never completely cured. Over time, the continuous infection causes irreversible damage to the lungs. Tobramycin also has serious side effects like kidney damage and hearing loss. People with cystic fibrosis usually end up needing lung transplants, and can suffer cumulative damage from the side effects of tobramycin.  

The experiments were carried out in petri dishes and there are plans to test it on mice soon.

MSU microbiologist Chris Waters says a combination of triclosan and tobramycin could be an effective treatment for lung infections that would allow the lungs to heal and prevent destruction of the lungs. "We're hoping if all goes well within maybe the next couple of years we can approach the FDA with a package and say we'd like to initiate a clinical trial," says Waters.

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