Spotlight on Research at COPH
Antibiotics have been used for many decades. Penicillin was regarded as a miracle drug 70 years ago. Over the decades, many new generations of antibiotics have been used. In fact, the pace at which bacteria become resistant to one class of antibiotics is probably faster than the drug companies can develop them. Antibiotics resistance is a serious public health threat worldwide according to the World Health Organization.
Probiotics are the opposite of antibiotics—they are good or friendly bacteria that have health promoting effects on humans and animals. The concept of probiotics is even older than that of antibiotics—probiotics were first described by Metchnikoff, a Russian scientist, more than a century ago. These classes of bacteria have long been used to curdle milk and to make sauerkraut and cheese, but only recently have scientists started to understand the value of these friendly bacteria. More than $5 million in NIH-funded basic and clinical research directed by Dr. Panigrahi has revealed that these probiotic agents can prevent deadly blood stream infections in newborn babies. Probiotic agents can also probably help in the treatment of other infections and inflammatory conditions in neonates, such as necrotizing enterocolitis (a condition in which the intestines of a baby decay, giving rise to high mortality and sometimes lifelong disability). Probiotics can also help in many other conditions in adults and the elderly. Dr. Panigrahi’s research focuses on the precise mechanisms of action and how these friendly bacteria change the entire bacterial flora of the host. He studies host response in different diseases and tries to discover the mechanism by which probiotics mitigate bad responses. While it is gratifying to see probiotics research taking a new dimension, it is discomforting to find scores of probiotics preparations in health food stores, and yogurt companies claiming a myriad of effects that may not be supported by scientific evidence. It is only by intense research that specific probiotics may one day treat specific diseases and specific age groups. Probiotics can be used not only for intestinal health, but for oral health and diseases of other mucosal surfaces, such as the vaginal tract. Dr. Panigrahi believes that the century-old probiotics concept can probably be used to contain antibiotics resistance too. The use of such simple and innovative interventions can reduce morbidity, improve quality of life, and save billions of dollars worldwide.