Launceston research into probiotic to prevent Haemophilus influenzae infections

A Launceston scientist is studying the use of a probiotic to potentially prevent certain chronic infections.

Dr Stephen Tristram is researching Haemophilus influenzae, a bacterium that has a level of antibiotic resistance deemed a “global threat to human health”.

“This organism is a common inhabitant of our throats where it does us no harm, but under conditions where the health of our respiratory tract is compromised, the organism frequently causes infections, such as pneumonia, bronchitis – and in children, middle ear infection,” he said. 

“Middle ear infection occurs in massive numbers in kids under the age of four or five and they get blocked ears, ear aches, they’re irritable, they cry a lot. If it isn’t dealt with quickly, it can cause scarring of the eardrum and the worst thing is they often get repeat episodes.

“When you have the infection, it’s called glue ear, you can’t hear properly so kids have a learning deficit, because they’re at school and they can’t quite hear properly. With the other infection in adults, it’s the same organism in the lung – that’s more in older people who’ve been chronic smokers.”

During his research, Dr Tristram found a second bacteria that was closely linked, but that didn’t cause infections.

“We started off trying to artificially manufacture a bug that could make this protein, and then we found one naturally just in the last two years, which is probably a lot better and a lot safer.

“We get a whole lot of volunteers, swabbed their throats, cultured their normal bacteria and see if any of the ones you grow from then can inhibit a panel of known disease causing organisms.”

Dr Tristram, who is a senior lecturer in medical microbiology at UTAS, has received a 2018 Clifford Craig grant to continue his research into the probiotic treatment. He said about 10 per cent of people carried the good bug that made the “helpful protein”.

“I’m going to get a panel of 200 volunteers, culture their throats and see if the ones that have the helpful bug of this nice protein, see if they have less of the one that might cause this disease.

“So, if I can show a cause and effect between having this bug that’s helpful with this protein, that’s a positive attribute, then we’ll go to the next stage, which will be the animal model.

“Right now, all we know is that in the laboratory, the helpful bug makes the protein and can kill the other bug in a dish, but that may not translate to a person. If it works, then we move to a mouse model and if that works, then we go to a human model.”

Dr Tristram hopes to have results from the throat study within two years, as well as the animal study results.