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Study finds potential new way to end recurrent bladder infections

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Researchers have found a potential solution for recurrent urinary tract infections (UTIs).

In new research led by University of Utah microbiologists, researchers found that the compound chitosan in combination with antibiotics was successful at eliminating reservoir populations of bacteria in mouse models.

UTIs often occurs when E. coli bacteria infect the bladder, causing painful urination and a persistent urge to pee.  Women are also at a greater risk of infection than men, likely because they have shorter urethras.

Patients with UTIs are usually prescribed antibiotics, but the treatment isn’t always effective for fully eliminating the bacteria deep within the bladder’s cell layers.

“We do know that 25 percent [of UTI sufferers] will have a recurrent infection within six months, which tells us the antibiotics aren’t completely clearing the infection,” study author Matthew Blango, a University of Utah postdoctoral fellow, told FoxNews.com.

In order to find a solution to this problem, researchers tested various antibiotics with chitosan – a derivative found shellfish that has been used as a drug carrier.  They found that fluoroquinolones, including the commonly prescribed sparfloxacin and ciprofloxacin, were the most effective at eliminating the bacteria in the bladder.

According to the researchers, the chitosan exfoliated the large, protective epithelial cells from the bladder, allowing the antibiotics to then permeate into the deeper tissues to eliminate bacteria. These epithelial cells, which protect urine from entering the bladder tissues, regenerate quickly and reformed a protective barrier after the treatment.

“What we’re doing is a little different than you might expect,” Blango said. “Usually you don’t try to destroy a layer of cells to treat infection, but in this case, at least in mice, it seems to help the issue.”

Blango noted that when E.coli bacteria infect the bladder, they actually cause exfoliation on their own – though not as uniformly as chitosan treatment. This natural process by E.coli can cause uneven gaps in the cell layer, which may explain why some patients are effectively treated with antibiotics, while others do not have a good clearance of the infection.

“[Exfoliation is] something that happens on its own, so it’s not all that different than the natural procedure, but we’re just forcing it to do it,” Blango said.

According to the National Kidney Foundation, UTIs are responsible for nearly 10 million doctor visits each year. One in five women will have at least one UTI in her lifetime, and nearly 20 percent of those women will have another UTI.  Furthermore, 30 percent of that group will have another UTI, and 80 percent of those women will have recurrences. The bacterial strains for UTIs are known to survive for long periods of times, causing numerous flare-ups.

Given the results of their study, which was published in PLOS ONE, Blango hopes their research will influence how UTIs are treated in the future. He said patients would likely receive chitosan through catheterization so the drug can be directly infused into the bladder, but that the drug would only be used for those who aren’t getting the full effects of antibiotics .

“[It would be] more of an advanced sort of treatment for the worst type of infection – infections that are really hard to get rid of [and] the patient keeps coming back to the clinic with recurrent UTIs,” he said.