Urinary tract infections, or UTIs, are a common ailment, especially in pregnant and older women. Although they can be treated with antibiotics, in many cases, the infection recurs weeks after apparently being cured. Dr. Soman Abraham, a microbiologist at Duke University, led a team trying to discover why.
"What was becoming clear," he says, "was that the bacteria that were coming back after antibiotic treatment were actually the same bacteria that were causing the infection in the first place. We then hypothesized that the bacteria were avoiding elimination by antibiotics by actually hiding within the cells lining the bladder." Pouch-like structures within those cells allow the bladder to stretch as it fills with urine. They also provide a protected space where the bacteria won't be flushed out with the urine.
The researchers found that forskalin, an extract from the Indian coleus plant, could force the bacteria out of hiding. "What forskalin does is it actually sends a signal to the cells lining the bladder so they flush out these bacteria which are in these pouches," Abraham explains.
Forskalin, which is widely available in health food stores, stimulates certain cellular activity, and is often used for treating painful urination. It has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for that use, however.
In their latest experiments, the researchers injected the extract into mice. Abraham says the next study will examine forskalin's effectiveness when given orally, as part of a one-two punch approach. "We will give forskalin in combination with antibiotics to see if we can permanently eradicate urinary tract infections in these women with frequent and recurrent infections."Results of the research are published in the journal Nature Medicine