New treatment for urinary tract infections

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Scientists from VIB-VUB discovered an important aspect in the development of urinary tract infections. Researchers from VIB and VUB joined hands with the US Center for Women’s Infectious Disease Research (cWIDR). Their study showed that Escherichia coli (E. coli) attaches itself in a later stage of the disease in a different way to the bladder cells than in the initial phase. The discovery is published in the leading scientific journal Cell Host & Microbe. Ultimately, the findings could lead to new therapies without antibiotics during the later stages of inflammation.

Bladder infections occur mainly in women. Antibiotics can help, but some patients suffer from recurrent infections. Some strains of E. coli moreover, are now resistant to antibiotics. If the inflammation transfers to the kidneys, this may lead to life-threatening complications.

The overall course of the disease is known: E. coli has hair-like structures or so-called “pili”, with which it attaches itself to bladder cells. This creates an inflammation, resulting in tissue damage and pain. The bacterium has different types of pili, but until recently, the function of these different pili was insufficiently known.

Complementary pili

The team, led by Professor Han Remaut (VIB-VUB), investigated what happens in the later stages of a urinary tract infection. They discovered that one type of pili from E. coli was adapted to a later stage of the disease. This type of pili attaches onto the already damaged bladder cells.

Ségolène Ruer (VIB-VUB): “The different strains of E. coli possess in total 40 types of such pili, which lead the bacteria to a specific location in the body, where they can cause a variety of digestive or urinary tract infections. That one type of pili only enters into force after damage to the bladder tissue, was a surprise. Perhaps that is why the role of those specific pili was not known for a long time. “

Medicines without antibiotics

Because E. coli is becoming more and more resilient to existing antibiotics, new therapies are currently being developed. These don’t contain antibiotics, but focus on the block of the function of the pili in bladder inflammation. These agents can support a treatment with antibiotics. In addition, a new vaccine is being clinically tested.