In mice, it has been proven that bacteria from healthy cats can produce antibodies with remarkable skin healing properties.
These properties have been revealed in a new study that suggests we may one day be able to harness them to treat infections in humans and other animals.
This is a form of bacteriotherapy that uses 'good' bacteria to protect against pathogens and 'bad' bacteria. Scientists are continually trying to find the right balance.
Here, researchers used cat bacteria to protect against the methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus pseudintermedius or MRSP pathogen in mice: this bacterium is often found on domesticated animals, and can proliferate out of control when they're sick or injured.
The study results show that good bacteria in cats can provide strong protection against MRSP, not only in mice as it was in this case but also in humans who are able to pick up the good bacteria.
Richard Gallo, a University of California San Diego medical scientist, says that it may be possible for humans to have some protection from MRSP by living with a healthy cat. This may be a strong argument for pet ownership.
MRSP can cause eczema in humans, dogs, and cats. As you can tell from the "methicillin-resistant" part, common antibiotics don't work on it, and it's difficult to treat.
The team created a list of bacteria that is normally found in dogs and cats and grew them alongside MRSP. They were able to identify a Staphylococcus felis strain, which stopped MRSP growth.
The multiple antibiotics that S. felis naturally produces are sufficient to break down the walls of MRSP cell walls, thereby killing the pathogen. S. felis was a highly effective biological fighter machine, according to closer examination.
Gallo says that "the potency of this [S. felis] specie is extraordinary." It is capable of killing pathogens in large part because it attacks them on multiple sides, a strategy called polypharmacy. This makes it a very attractive therapeutic option.
S. felis was tested on mice infected by MRSP. The infection had reduced in size and redness. Further examination revealed that there was less viable MRSP bacteria on the skin following treatment.
This bacterium is also extremely effective against antibiotic resistance. It produces four distinct antimicrobial peptides that work together to make it harder for the MRSP pathogens to resist.
It's not yet possible to make this a treatment for humans. The researchers plan to continue testing their findings in dogs.
If the S. felis findings can be made into a protective product we have endless options. It could be used as a cream, spray, or gel and we don’t even need to worry about it getting washed off our skin.
Gallo says that skin evolved to protect good bacteria so soap and detergents aren't used often to wash them off.
The research was published in eLife.