How good bacteria prevent infections after surgery


In the United States, nearly one in 25 patients will acquire an infection during a hospital stay–in 2011, 158,000 of those infections were related to a surgical procedure. You might think that the solution to this problem is nuking patients with antibiotics and disinfecting everything in sight, but researchers at the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory are finding that the answer may be encouraging the growth of more good bacteria to fight the bad guys.

In the latest video above from the Microbiome Project, Jack Gilbert, PhD, professor of surgery at UChicago Medicine and group leader for microbial ecology at Argonne, explains hows surgery, especially on the gastrointestinal system, disrupts the body’s microbiome.

The introduction of oxygen, coupled with the use of antibiotics, wipes out vast numbers of bacteria that normally maintain a healthy balance in the gut, giving an opening for harmful strains to proliferate.

Worse yet, some bacteria can evade common antibiotics used during surgery and interfere with the healing process. In a study last May, John Alverdy, MD, professor of surgery at UChicago Medicine, showed how one strain called Enterrococcus faecalis releases enzymes that break down scar tissue forming where incisions have been made in the intestine, causing leaks that can lead to pain, fever, sepsis and even death.

Instead of blasting away with more antibiotics though, Alverdy and his team, including surgery resident Kristina Guyton, MD, are using different techniques like fecal transplants and embedding nutrients that health bacteria need to encourage the growth of a balanced, healthy microbiome.

“I know that sounds counterintuitive, but we now have the sequencing power with Argonne National Laboratories, we have the synthesis power with the Institute of Molecular Engineering at Argonne and at at U of C, to actually understand at an extremely granular and high-resolution level what nutrients do the bad guys want, what nutrients do the good guys want, how to create a recipe that will make the body behave the way we want it to after surgery,” said Alverdy.

Watch more of the Microbiome Project series from Argonne National Laboratory.

About Matt Wood (531 Articles)
Matt Wood is a senior science writer and manager of communications at the University of Chicago Medicine & Biological Sciences Division.
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