A collaboration of Canadian investigators has recently figured out that inhalable nitric oxide may be used as an effective and inexpensive means to fight microbial infections. Treatments based on this approach may lead to results similar to those provided by other approaches.
Scientists at the University of British Columbia
(UBC) and Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute say that introducing the chemical into existing therapies may take a while, but say that their new work was a step in the right direction.
Interestingly, the immune system produces nitric oxide regularly. The substance acts as an antimicrobial agent inside the bloodstream, killing off various species of parasites, fungi, viruses and bacteria. However, very few studies have focused on nitric oxide as a potential drug.
What the Canadian researchers studied were the effects that giving high concentrations of nitric oxide to humans had on the body. While experts knew that using small amounts of the stuff did not cause any harm, they were interested in how the doses required to kill germs would affect the immune system.
The study showed no adverse side-effects on the human body, even when test subjects were given enough nitric oxide for the chemical to become biologically active. The work was carried out at the UBC Hospital and lasted about a week.
Details of the results were published in the July issue of the esteemed Journal of Cystic Fibrosis. The study was sponsored by the Lotte & John Hecht Memorial Foundation.
“In retrospect, it’s not surprising to find that a molecule naturally produced in our own body to fight invading pathogens is useful as an antimicrobial drug,” explains study investigator Chris Miller.
The scientist, also the lead author of the research paper, holds an appointment as an assistant professor with the UBC Division of Respiratory Medicine. He is also a member of the Immunity and Infection Research Center at the Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute (VCHRI).
“This study confirms the safety aspect of an efficacious mode of delivery,” Miller says. He explains that the inhalable nitric oxide was prescribed to patients suffering from cystic fibrosis and tuberculosis, during the Phase I safety study conducted at UBC Hospital.