Unfolding bent fingers: New handiwork for bacteria

In the age of swine flu, anthrax, SARS, HIV, and drug-resistant tuberculosis, microbes are high on nearly everyone's list of villains. But scientists have learned to harness some of the most dangerous critters, using microbial components or products to fight disease. Immunizations are the obvious example, but other applications are increasing. For example, while the bacterium Clostridium botulinum can cause lethal outbreaks of botulism, it also produces Botox. And now doctors can inject an enzyme produced by Clostridium histolyticum, a bacterial cause of deadly gas gangrene, to treat a common, sometimes disabling hand condition called Dupuytren's contracture.

What is Dupuytren's?

You may never have heard of the condition or the French surgeon responsible for its difficult name, but you've probably met someone with the problem. Affecting 2% to 42% of various population groups, Dupuytren's is one of the most common chronic hand conditions. It is particularly prevalent in older white men of Northern European descent; President Ronald Reagan was one of the many famous people who've had Dupuytren's.

To continue reading this article, you must login.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »