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Can we make a realistic and ethical laboratory model of chronic lung infection?”
December 14th 2020 @ 7:30 pm
Dr Freya Harrison, School of Life Sciences, University of Warwick
Freya uses her background in microbiology and evolutionary ecology to research how bacterial pathogens interact and evolve during chronic infections. She is especially interested in the long-lived, biodiverse lung infections that affect people with the genetic disorder cystic fibrosis, or people with chronic wound infections such as diabetic foot ulcers. These infections are unique environments for bacteria, and Freya’s group try to make accurate representations of infected lungs and tissues in the lab so they can better understand how bacteria interact and evolve during infection, and to provide better testing platforms for antibiotics and new antibacterial therapies. Freya is also a founder member of the interdisciplinary AncientBiotics consortium, which seeks to identify, reconstruct and test infection remedies from medieval medical books in the hope of finding new treatments for chronic infections.
Tonight’s talk will focus on the group’s efforts to mimic cystic fibrosis lung infections in the lab. People with cystic fibrosis contract lung infections in which different species of bacteria come together to form slime-encased multicellular “biofilms” that clog the airways and protect the microbes within from attack by antibiotics, or by the host’s immune system. It can be very hard to predict, from standard diagnostic lab tests, which antibiotics might be able to penetrate biofilm defences and kill bacteria. Further, pathogenic microbes can work together to cause damage to the lung tissues and to protect each other from antibiotics. To better understand how cystic fibrosis lung infection develops, we use lung tissue from pigs slaughtered for meat to build realistic lung biofilms in the lab. In this way, we hope that we can find the Achilles’ heel of debilitating and often lethal lung infection – and help researchers work on many different aspects of lung infection microbiology without the need for experiments on live animals.