Most of the population wouldn't need anything like chitosan, but for the people who keep coming back and saying, 'I still have a UTI,' we might be able to develop a treatment for these patients for whom these infections won't go away. —Matt Blango, a U. postdoctoral researcher
SALT LAKE CITY — Researchers at the University of Utah released a study Tuesday outlining testing done with a compound that may be able to tackle chronic urinary tract infections.
While antibiotics can treat urinary tract infections, they haven't been able to keep them from recurring as the infection-causing bacteria can lodge in the cell and tissue layers of the bladder.
The new study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, indicates that the use of a U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved compound called chitosan can help remove the "reservoir" bacteria in the deeper layers of the bladder.
"When combined with antibiotics, chitosan treatment significantly reduces bacterial loads within the bladder and may therefore be of therapeutic value to individuals with chronic, recurrent UTIs," the study states.
Matt Blango, a U. postdoctoral researcher, said the study dates back to late 2010 or 2011. Chitosan was selected for the study on mice because it was more "selective" in its exfoliation of the bladder, while other compounds would effectively destroy the organ to eliminate the bacteria, Blango said.
"It could work in patients, but it would take the bladder a long time to recover," he said. "This is a way of keeping the bladder in a slightly better state."
The mice's bladders were infected, infused with chitosan for 20 minutes and then treated with a seven-day course of antibiotics. Afterward, researchers found that the bacteria was essentially gone and that the bladders regenerated the lining of exfoliated cells within about a week.
Blango and those he worked with on the study — including Matthew Mulvey, U. professor of pathology; Elizabeth M. Ott, U. postdoctoral fellow; and two researchers from the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia — were optimistic about their findings.
According to the National Kidney Foundation, urinary tract infections prompt almost 10 million doctor visits each year and 1 in 5 women will have at least one in their lifetime.
Almost 20 percent of those who have one will have another, and 30 percent of that group will have a third, with an 80 percent recurrence rate for those who have had three infections.
Blango said most patients will have one UTI that is successfully treated with antibiotics, but that 25 percent of people will have a recurrence within six months. The chitosan treatment would be more for those whose infections are chronic.
"Most of the population wouldn't need anything like chitosan, but for the people who keep coming back and saying, 'I still have a UTI,' we might be able to develop a treatment for these patients for whom these infections won't go away," he said.
Thus far, tests have only been conducted on mice, but the possibility of eliminating recurring urinary tract infections is a compelling prospect. While there is a potential that it can be used on humans, Blango said their colleagues in Slovenia are looking into pursuing that type of study while they are focusing on optimizing results — "finding better antibiotics to couple with this therapy and treatment," he said.
Putting the information in the journal will demonstrate the potential of chitosan to their colleagues, who will hopefully also want to develop it further.
"That's the goal," Blango said. "We were hoping to be able to put this information out there, and hopefully other people will expand on it and it will lead to a therapy or at least us learning more about the bladder or UTIs."