Sodium nitrite is commonly used as a preservative to cure meat products. A study shows that it has the ability to kill the bacteria that causes thickening of the mucus in the lungs of cystic fibrosis patients. The experiment is carried out in laboratory animal models.
Daniel Hassett, Ph.D., an associate professor of genetics at the University of Cincinnati said that Pseudomonas aeruginosa is the bacteria that form mucus and threatens the lives of CF (Cystic Fibrosis) patients.
P. aeruginosa, multiplies extensively in the lungs and airways of CF patients resulting in the formation of antibiotic and phagocyte-resistant biofilms. This is due to a mutation in the gene mucA that the bacteria are able to form the lung-clogging mucus.
In the laboratory when small amount of acidified sodium nitrite is added to the suspension containing mucoid bacteria it results in the conversion of the mucus in to gaseous nitric oxide. This was reported online in the Journal of Clinical Investigation. The mucoid bacteria are killed because of the gaseous nitric oxide.
Bacteria, which lack the mucA mutation, are not affected, but about 87% of the bacteria isolated from the lungs of CF patients have mucA mutation. Hence sodium nitrate can be used as one of the way to destroy bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and white blood cells.
White blood cells are unable to destroy the bacteria because they're enmeshed in the thick mucous and the White blood cells end up destroying the lungs and airway tissue. The biofilms blocks the entire airway passage and deprives the tissue of oxygen ultimately killing it.
It also showed that Nitrite and its derivatives does not have any ill effects on the cultured human airway epithelia. The researchers say that nitrites could be inhaled and be part as the CF therapy. The patients can continue with this therapy until they develop the normal strains and starts showing signs of improvement. Later on the patients can be administered conventional antibiotics.
But the researchers indicate the necessity of further studies to rule out toxic side effects before the treatment is available to CF patients.