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U of S team researches UTI treatments

By in News


Katherine Ball and Francesca Sampieri  working at the Canadian Light Source.
Katherine Ball and Francesca Sampieri
working at the Canadian Light Source.

A research team at the University of Saskatchewan took on finding an alternative treatment method for the nearly antibiotic-resistant urinary tract infections that affect both humans and animals.

The failure of traditional antibiotic therapy to cure resistant E. coli strain that cause infections prompted veterinary clinical pharmacology professor Patricia Dowling to search for alternative treatments for urinary tract infections.

UTIs are among the most common bacterial infections in humans and animals, caused largely by strains of E. coli bacteria that inhabit the urinary tract.

Working as a clinical pharmacologist solving internal medicine problems, Dowling said she noticed that UTIs have become increasingly difficult to treat.

“I do a lot of case consultations and recognized that these difficult UTIs were becoming increasingly common in small animals,” Dowling wrote to the Sheaf in an email, adding that they have run out of options.

Dowling teamed up with Canadian Light Source industrial scientist Julie Thompson and her colleagues, while PhD student Katherine Ball conducted most of the research. The team chose to explore gallium as an alternative treatment of UTIs because it is a metal that can be visualized with a synchrotron and gallium maltolate is already a drug that can be taken orally.

Gallium maltolate is known to have strong antibiotic activity and accumulates at sites of infection in the body. Dowling’s aim was to determine if ingested gallium compounds would arrive at and eradicate the E. coli bacteria in the bladder during a UTI.

Dowling’s team used the synchrotron at the CLS and a powerful microscope to analyze tissue samples and to visualize gallium distribution in bladder membrane cells in mice.

Unfortunately, Dowling found that the levels of gallium in the cells were not sufficient to kill E. coli, but that it could be useful for other infections. The work could be a stepping stone towards discoveries that will benefit the health of humans and animals.

Dowling is also a proponent of One Health, a global initiative that encourages collaboration in all health disciplines, and said that joint efforts will lead to an effective treatment for UTIs. Accordingly, One Health brings together veterinary medicine, human medicine and environmental science to benefit the lives of all species.

“UTIs are common in people and animals, and if we work together we can solve the problems of both,” Dowling wrote.

Over half of all women and 10 per cent of men experience at least one bladder infection, the most common UTI. Because of the wide use and improper cleaning of catheters, bladder infections are the most often occurring hospital-acquired infection in Canada.

For such a prevalent infection, a complicated treatment is required because the UTI-causing bacteria spend part of their life cycle within the cells of the membrane lining the bladder. The bacteria are protected inside these cells from immune responses and most antibiotics as only a few can penetrate membrane cells.

The occurrences of antibiotic resistant E. coli infections are increasing, leaving patients with few or no appropriate pharmaceutical choices for treatment. The infection itself can cause pain and discomfort, but this is only part of the problem. Failure to treat the infection can result in infertility, bloodstream infection, kidney failure, and even death.

Dowling is a professor at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine. She was born on Long Island, N.Y. and graduated from Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. After practicing in Ohio and North Carolina, Dowling attended Auburn University for a residency in internal medicine and a masters in clinical pharmacology. Unable to find a job in the United States, she accepted a position in Saskatoon and has remained in the city for 20 years.

Photo: Supplied

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