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Innovative study offers insight into gallstone disease treatment

Media release

Curtin University researchers have combined elements of earth and medical science in an innovative study that they say has offered important insights into the treatment of gallstone disease.

New research, published in the journal Scientific Reports, studied human gallstones, their chemical and bacterial composition and how the genes present in the bacteria may aid their survival in the gallbladder.

Lead author PhD candidate Sureyya Kose, from Curtin’s School of Molecular and Life Sciences and WA-Organic and Isotope Geochemistry Centre (WA-OIGC), said while previous research in this field had indirectly associated bacterial processes with gallstone formation and identified bacteria present in gallstones, the new research went a step further.

“We were able to make in-roads into identifying the genes that bacteria harbour and which enable them to survive in the human gallbladder. The by-product of these survival mechanisms may be the key factor behind gallstone disease,” Ms Kose said.

“We identified a number of genes in these bacteria, mostly associated with the known pathogen Klebsiella, which are associated with stress responses, multi-drug resistance and the formation of protective layers created by bacteria called biofilms.

“The formation of biofilms is a growing concern to clinicians due to their ability to provide resistance to antibiotics. This protective measure by strong pathogens like Klebsiella may provide the ‘glue’ that initiates gallstone formation.

“This pilot study provides a framework to study bacterial processes that play a potential role in gallstone formation across markedly different types of stones and patient backgrounds.”

Co-author Associate Professor Marco Coolen, from Curtin’s School of Earth and Planetary Sciences and WA-OIGC, said the research was done using a combination of bacterial genetics and cholesterol analyses.

“Our findings are a step forward to developing methods for fighting these bacteria and helping to combat gallstone disease and infections,” Associate Professor Coolen said.

“Gallstone surgery is one of the most common types of elective surgery and our research could lead to a reduction in the need for this.”

The research paper was co-authored by project lead John Curtin Distinguished Professor Kliti Grice, from Curtin’s School of Earth and Planetary Sciences and WA-OIGC, along with Professor William Orsi from Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat Munchen and Associate Professor Mohammed Ballal from Fiona Stanley Hospital.

The report, Metagenomics of pigmented and cholesterol gallstones: the putative role of bacteria’ can be found online here.