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Medical College Researchers to Study Intestinal Bacteria

Aug. 15, 2012

The Medical College of Wisconsin received a two-year, $420,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to investigate the interactions between bacteria that live in the intestine and the intestinal immune system.

Nita H. Salzman, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of pediatrics in gastroenterology and researcher at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin Research Institute, and Christopher J. Kristich, Ph.D., assistant professor of microbiology and molecular genetics, are the primary investigators of the grant.

The gastrointestinal tract is home for trillions of microbes that live in a complex and delicately balanced ecosystem known as a microbiome. Previous work by Dr. Salzman and colleagues has identified an important, highly regulated balance between this intestinal ecosystem and the immune system. Disruption of this balance by an infection or oral antibiotic administration may translate into serious disease.

This research will study the bacterium Enterococcus faecalis, which is resistant to many antibiotics and can cause serious illness in hospitalized patients when it spreads from the gastrointestinal tract. An ideal model for study, these bacteria can be used to probe bacterial- host interactions that contribute to enterococcal colonization of the gastrointestinal tract.

Understanding the mechanisms involved in the interaction between Enterococcus faecalis and the gastrointestinal tract may lead to new approaches for therapies that will prevent illness caused by these bacteria.

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