Previous research in infection has focused on the relationship between disease and the bacteria causing the infection. Everything else living in or on the body was considered to be of little important for maintaining health. Over the last decade, however, the role of micro-organisms living on or near the body has become clearer. It is now evident that to maintain health, rich and diverse bacteria communities are paramount. Not only in the gut, but also in many other parts of the body previously considered sterile, such as the urinary tract and the airways.  

Professor Cervin’s lab aims to investigate the role of normal bacteria in the airway and how it changes during infection. The lab’s research also explores treatment alternatives for recurring and chronic infections. 

The lab has a special interest in chronic sinusitis in the general population, and otitis media (middle ear infection) in the indigenous population. The lab’s investigations primarily use living bacteria delivered to the nasal cavity by a form of nasal spray. 

A novel treatment of Chronic Rhinosinusitis (CRS) with probiotic nasal spray.

CRS is estimated to affect 10% of the population in western countries. The mainstay of treatment is antibiotics and it is estimated that 18 to 22 million doctor consultations are made annually in the USA and that the number of sick leave days due to CRS are over 73 million per annum.
We have identified a number of friendly bacteria (commensals) from airway healthy individuals that could be used to displace pathogenic bacteria. At present we are performing in vitro testing of the commensals against commonly found pathogens in order to design a commensal nasal spray. This spray will be tested in a clinical pilot trial in patients not responding to traditional treatment.

Otitis Media in the Indigenous population. Is bacterial interference a treatment alternative?

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island population have some of the highest rates of Otitis Media in the world, and experience it earlier, more frequently and in more severe forms than non-Indigenous Australians. Despite a large engagement from public health, including medical and surgical treatment options, the burden of disease remains substantial. In collaboration between the University of Queensland Centre for Clinical Research and the Deadly Ears group we have started a research program exploring the normal bacterial flora in the upper airway in the indigenous population and how it contributes to maintain health. The aim is to investigate the possibility of strengthening the defence against recurring acute otitis media by supplementing the airway with friendly bacteria. The concept is called bacterial interference, where strains of non-disease causing bacteria can outcompete bacteria causing infections such as otitis media or tonsillitis. We hope that this treatment option in the future can reduce disease burden as well as the use of antibiotics. 

Study on Prevention of Otitis media with Probiotics in Indigenous Children (POPI)

Please find further details of POPI study here.