Urinary Tract Infections ‘Steal’ Copper To Stay Alive [Study]

Melissa Stusinski - Author

Jun. 15 2013, Updated 10:02 p.m. ET

Humans have understood for centuries that copper is huge in fighting infections; now it seems that bacteria that cause urinary tract infections (UTIs) know it too, since they “steal” copper in order to stay alive. The study was published on Sunday in Nature Chemical Biology, and show that the annual costs to treat UTIs in the United States alone are estimated at about $1.6 billion.

RedOrbit notes that researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis believe blocking this thievery with a drug will improve patients’ chances of fighting off infections significantly.

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Blocking this thievery with a drug may significantly improve patients’ chances of fighting off infections, according to researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. The findings appear online July 8 in Nature Chemical Biology. Senior author Jeff Henderson, MD, PhD, assistant professor of medicine and of molecular microbiology stated:

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“While some patients are able to clear these infections without issue, in others the infection persists or recurs despite antibiotic therapy. In some cases, the infection spreads to the kidney or the blood and becomes life-threatening. We’ve been investigating what’s different about the bacteria that cause these more troublesome infections.”

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Researchers also have known that E. coli, the bacteria which causes a urinary tract infection, produces a molecule called yersiniabactin, which takes iron from its host cells, reports Eureka Alert. They believed that this same molecule may have an effect on copper as well. Henderson revealed that:

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“We found copper bound to yersiniabactin in nearly every patient whose bacteria made the molecule. Yersiniabactin was often bound to copper more than it was to iron.”

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Armed with these details, scientists hope to find new ways to assess a urinary tract infection’s chances of becoming more serious, as well as developing more cures for the infection.


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