Although in our western world, most of us don’t think of pneumonia as being deadly, rather a very treatable disease, in reality, pneumonia is a vicious killer. Pneumonia accounts for 16% of all deaths of children under 5 years old, killing 920 136 children in 2015. However, doctors think they may have discovered a way to get a leg up over this condition.
Scientists and researchers have discovered that a hormone that is responsible for controlling iron metabolism helps fight off a severe form of bacterial pneumonia. The best part is that this relatively simple discovery can even help the most vulnerable of patients.
According the UVA Today, researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine have identified a key hormone critical for preventing pneumonia bacteria from spreading throughout the body. The hormone, hepcidin, is produced in the liver and limits the spread of the bacteria by hiding the iron in the blood that the bacteria need to survive and grow.
The newspaper went on to say that “Stimulating hepcidin production in patients who do not produce it well, such as people with iron overload or liver disease, may help their bodies effectively starve the bacteria to death. That finding could be lifesaving for these vulnerable patients, especially as pneumonia bacteria grow increasingly antibiotic-resistant.”
“The rate at which these organisms become resistant to antibiotics is far faster than the rate at which we come up with new antibiotics. It’s a race, and they’re winning it,” said researcher Borna Mehrad of UVA’s Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine. “Increasingly, the choice of antibiotics to treat these infections is more and more limited, and there are occasions where there just isn’t an antibiotic to treat with, which is a very scary and dangerous situation.”
The researchers found that mice which had been genetically modified to lack hepcidin were particularly susceptible to bacterial pneumonia. Of those, nearly all the mice with pneumonia had the bacteria spread from their lungs and into their bloodstream, ultimately killing them.
“It’s the exact same thing that happens in people,” Mehrad said. “The mice that lacked the hormone weren’t able to hide iron away from the bacteria, and we think that’s why the bacteria did so well in the blood.”
“We think that short-term treatment with this drug should be an effective way of treating these [pneumonia] infections,” Mehrad said. “At least in mice, it seems to work extremely well.”
This is a huge breakthrough that has global applications. The findings of this studied were published online by the scientific journal JCI Insight.