The lungs were thought to be sterile until about ten years ago. Now, through advanced technology, we know that the lungs have a complex and diverse array of microbes including bacteria, fungi and viruses.
At the World Bronchiectasis Conference earlier this month, Dr. Sanjay Chotirmall from Nanyang Technical University in Singapore and Leopoldo Segal from NYU Langone in New York presented their research on the lung microbiome. Dr. Segal's research focused on the microbiome as it relates to Non-tuberculous Mycobacteria infections (NTM).
One of the most interesting aspects of their research is the potential for unlocking the secret to why some people with underlying conditions like bronchiectasis get infections while others do not. There is evidence pointing to the diversity of microbes in the lungs and the "cross-talk" they are engaged in with each other.
Yes, that's right. The microbes actually communicate. And not only do they communicate within the lungs but they also cross-talk with the microbes in the gut. As we move toward a better understanding of microbial diversity it is hoped that the research will help to identify harmful pathogens and concerning biomarkers that can be targeted for treatment. In other words, it would be another step towards personal medicine.
Who knows? There might come a time when in addition to dropping off a sputum sample at the lab, we will also bring a stool sample. Could it be that we will also have home aids such as a diagnostic toothbrush and toilet that will alert us to important changes? With continued research in the field, the future seems bright.
If you are interested in learning more about this topic, two years ago, the non-profit NTM Info and Research invited Dr. Segal and his associate, Dr. Benjamin Wu to do a patient webinar on the lung microbiome.
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Linda Cooper Esposito, MPH is a health educator with bronchiectasis. She developed the BE CLEAR Method to Living with Bronchiectasis and writes with compassion and humor about this chronic lung disease.