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New Sinusitis Treatment May Also Clean Ships


If someone asked you what sinusitis and dirty ships have in common, you might wonder what punch line would complete the joke. But it’s no joke, because scientists have discovered a new sinusitis treatment that also may be used to clean ships.

New sinusitis treatment comes from the ocean

Approximately 37 million people in the United States suffer with at least one episode of sinusitis per year. Sinusitis is an inflammatory condition in which the normally air-filled sinus cavities become blocked with fluid and pathogens that cause an infection.

Sinuses can become clogged because of the common cold or flu, allergic rhinitis (swelling of the lining of the nose), presence of nasal polyps (tiny growths that develop in the lining of the nose), or a deviated septum. The condition can last four weeks or less (acute sinusitis), 4 to 8 weeks (subacute sinusitis), or eight weeks or longer (chronic sinusitis).

Scientists at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom were fishing for an effective way to clean the hulls of ships when they made a discovery about marine bacteria called Bacillus licheniformis. These microorganisms live on the surface of seaweed, and they are also found in soil and bird feathers.

It seems that an enzyme (called NucB) extracted from the bacteria has the ability to clean up the hulls of ships, but it also is effective in clearing out many of the organisms associated with chronic sinusitis. Although the relationship between a ship’s hull and sinus cavities seems more than a stretch, the similarity is biofilm.

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In many people who have chronic sinusitis, the bacteria create a protective film or barrier called biofilm to shield themselves against antibiotics and other treatments, rendering them ineffective. NucB has been shown to break through and disperse nearly 60 percent of biofilms in sinusitis, which could then allow treatments to work.

In a collaborative effort between the scientists and medical experts from the Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, mucous and sinus biopsy samples were collected from 20 patients and evaluated in the laboratory. The team found 24 different strains, and each one produced biofilms with extracellular DNA.

According to one of the study’s authors, Dr. Nicholas Jakubovics of Newcastle University, NucB “breaks down the extracellular DNA, which is acting like a glue to hold the cells to the surface of the sinuses.” NucB was effective against 14 of the 24 strains studied.

People with chronic sinusitis experience weeks to months of life-disrupting symptoms, including blocked nose, persistent headache, facial pain, loss of the sense of smell, severe nasal congestion, nasal discharge, fatigue, and fever. Treatment options include use of a vaporizer, saline nose drops, over-the-counter nasal sprays, antibiotics, and oral steroids, but these are often not effective.

You won’t find this new ship-cleaner turned sinusitis treatment on your pharmacy shelves just yet. However, the investigators have planned further testing and development so that a new sinusitis treatment may be sailing into view in the foreseeable future.

Shields RC et al. Efficacy of a marine bacterial nuclease against biofilm forming microorganisms isolated from chronic rhinosinusitis. PLoS One 2013 Feb 18. DOI:10.1371/jornal.pone.0055339

Image: Morguefile