The Balance of Bacteria, Fungi

July 21, 2017

*Online Exclusive*

Track 2: Dermatology
Thursday, July 27
2:30–4 p.m.
Tennessee D/E

Bacteria have long been linked to dangerous infections that can delay healing and cause serious health problems. However, researchers are finding more evidence of the importance of maintaining a balance between bacteria and fungi in the body, particularly on the skin. A lecture, “Newest on Mycology Research,” in Thursday’s dermatology track will explain this growing field of study.

“I will talk about how bacteria and fungi interact together,” said Mahmoud Ghannoum, PhD, MBA. “This is a new area. Until now, everybody focused on the bacteria. It is not enough to look at bacteria, and it is not enough to look at fungi. You need to look at both because they seem to interact and cause diseases.”

Dr. Ghannoum is a professor and director of the Center for Medical Mycology at Case Western Reserve University and University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center. His research has focused on dysbiosis, which is an imbalance in the microorganisms that live in the body.

“If somebody has a balance of bacteria and fungus on the skin, or a balance of micro-organisms in the gut, this is shown to keep us healthy,” he said. “When somebody takes an antibiotic and you change this balance by killing some bacteria, you are giving the bad organisms a chance to start causing problems.”

An example of imbalance in the gut is Crohn’s disease. On the skin, the imbalance can be a problem in the form of acne, atopic dermatitis, or slow-healing wounds, such as those endured by patients with diabetes.

“The phenomenon in the gut is seen on the skin when fungi and bacteria interact in the wound,” Dr. Ghannoum said. “This can make diabetic wounds difficult to heal.”

His research has led to the development of a new systemic probiotic intended for general gut health. It can break down the digestive plaque in the gut where bad organisms come together. Dr. Ghannoum’s team also is working to develop topical probiotics, but the research is in an early phase.

“We are getting into an exciting time,” Dr. Ghannoum said. “I think this understanding of our relations with organisms in our body is going to change the way we practice medicine down the line. There is a gut-skin-brain connection, and if you control one, you may affect the other. The research that is going to be done in the coming five or so years will be critical to the way we practice medicine.”

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