Don’t fight infections.
She’s got a radical approach for the age of superbugs: Don’t fight infections. Learn to live with them.
Janelle Ayres argues for a radically new approach to treating infection: Don't fight it. Help the body tolerate it.Sandy Huffaker for STAT.
As her father lay dying of sepsis1, Janelle Ayres spent nine agonizing days at his bedside. When he didn’t beat the virulent bloodstream infection, she grieved. And then she got frustrated. She knew there had to be a better way to help patients like her dad.
In fact, she was working on one in her lab.
Ayres, a hard-charging physiologist who has unapologetically decorated her lab with bright touches of hot pink, is intent on upending our most fundamental understanding of how the human body fights disease.
Scientists have focused for decades on the how the immune system battles pathogens. Ayres believes other elements of our physiology are at least as important — so she’s hunting for the beneficial bacteria that seem to help some patients maintain a healthy appetite and repair damaged tissue even during bouts of serious disease.
If she can find them — and she’s already begun to do so — she believes she can develop drugs that will boost those qualities in patients who lack them and help keep people alive through battles with sepsis, malaria, cholera, and a host of other diseases.
Her approach, in a nutshell: Stop worrying so much about fighting infections. Instead, help the body tolerate them.
And no, she’s not spouting some New Age California mumbo jumbo about letting the body heal itself. An associate professor at the Salk Institute in the heart of San Diego’s booming biotech beach, Ayres is harnessing all manner of high-tech tools from the fields of microbiomics, genetics, and immunology — and looking to a menagerie of animals — to sort out why some individuals tolerate infection so much better than others. (By Usha Lee McFarling @ushamcfarling).
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