New research was shown this week at the ASM Microbe research meeting in Boston, Massachusetts which details a new discovery on the way bacteria cause dramatic changes in human eye cells.
The study focused on a common bacterial contaminant found on contact lenses and cases which causes the formation of large bubble-like membrane structures on human eye cells, leading to contact lens wear complications and inflammation.
Bacterial eye infections are both common and costly, and affect billions of people around the world.
One of the top contributors to microbial keratitis is the use of contact lenses. While it is generally understood that by wearing lenses on the surface of the eyes there is an increased risk of bacterial introduction, the specific details of how the infection takes root within human cells was not completely understood.
The mechanism uncovered by this study may lead to the development of more effective treatments in the future, which are expected to be vital as new antibiotic resistant bacteria are being discovered.
Playing a leading role in this research was Robert Shanks, PhD. He’s an associate professor at Charles T. Campbell Laboratory of Ophthalmic Microbiology. “Use of contact lenses is so prevalent, yet until now, we’ve had limited understanding of how bacteria, associated with contacts lenses and cases, damage cells on the surface of the eye. Our study paves the way for new therapies that alleviate inflammation associated with these often serious eye infections,” he said.
The study allowed researchers to observe bacteria that cause eye and other infections, such as Proteus mirabilis and Serratia marcescens, as they induce drastic morphological changes in the surfaces of skin and eye cells. The appearance of large membrane bubbles on the cell surface could be seen, and were referred to as “blebs”. Any cells that developed the blebs did not survive for very long.
Further looking into the underlying mechanism for the blebs, researchers used molecular genetics in order to find the bacterial genes responsible for causing them. A regulatory protein and a secreted protein were discovered that are believed to contribute to bleb formation.
The hope is that blocking the function of these proteins may be an effective in preventing infection associated inflammation and tissue damage.