TUESDAY, Jan. 31 (HealthDay News) -- The common food preservative sodium nitrite -- widely used in the curing of sausages, bacon and lunch meat -- may provide a treatment for cystic fibrosis patients, says a study by American and Canadian researchers.
They found that a dangerous bacteria called Pseudomonas aeruginosa that lives in the lungs of cystic fibrosis patients has a mutation that leaves it vulnerable to destruction by sodium nitrite. P. aeruginosa grows in the lung-clogging mucus found in the airways of cystic fibrosis patients and significantly weakens them.
The study appears in the February issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation.
"We believe that we have discovered the Achilles' heel of the formidable mucoid form of Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which could lead to improved treatment for cystic fibrosis airway disease," research leader Daniel Hassett, an associate professor in the molecular genetics, biochemistry and microbiology department at the University of Cincinnati, said in a prepared statement.
"We can essentially say that this organism, which some people thought could never be beaten, can now be destroyed by nothing more exotic than a common food preservative," Hassett said.
He and his colleagues found that about 87 percent of the mucoid Pseudomonas organisms they studied had the mutation that makes them vulnerable to sodium nitrite.
More research is needed before sodium nitrite might actually be used to treat cystic fibrosis patients, the scientists said.
Cystic fibrosis, which affects about 30,000 people in the United States, mostly whites of northern European descent, is an inherited disease that affects the airways and other vital organs. It is ultimately fatal, mostly due to respiratory failure.
The research was funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy.
The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has more about cystic fibrosis.