Biology Professor Hopes To Cure Athlete's Foot With Probiotic Solution

Back in May, we wrote about how athlete’s foot fungus was killing off frogs in Central America and the Caribbean. Since 2002, James Madison University biology professor Reid Harris has been working with probiotics to see if he can kill off the bad bacteria with good bacteria. Faculty assistant Eria Rebollar explains that the fungus infects frogs by growing inside the amphibians’ skin and eats away at the outer layer, affecting the frog’s ability to breathe.

frog fungus

Chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis) spreading through the streams of Central America has been killing off many species of frogs, including this lemur leaf frog. Image Source:

Why Traditional Athlete’s Foot Treatments Won’t Do…

Antifungal drugs have always been the mainstay of modern athlete’s foot treatments. However, the drugs are not 100% effective at treating all infections. Concerns about growing resistance to these chemicals has prompted scientists to think of alternative, natural cures for athlete’s foot. They are essentially using evolution “to help compete against the skin fungus for dominance on the skin,” says Harris. So far, the treatments have been successful in frogs and in petri dishes. The scientists hope that the research will translate into human probiotics that can treat athlete’s foot as well.

frogs foot fungus

Dr. Reid Harris has been exploring a cure for athlete’s foot by studying frogs in his lab at James Madion University since 2002. Image Source:

How Can Probiotic Solutions Work To Cure Athlete’s Foot In Humans?

JMU scientists say one of the benefits of a probiotic solution is how it is administered. A probiotic cream can target hard-to-reach areas — like beneath the toenail. “The fungus could be on any hotel shower floor and usual treatments [for Athlete’s foot] are either harmful or ineffective,” said Mary Lou Bourne, executive director of JMU Innovations. “This is more effective, less caustic, and less costly. Again, this has the potential to be a product.”

Are We Close To A Natural Athlete’s Foot Cure?

Harris received a patent for his research this past August — after spending three years developing the product. While achieving a patent is a huge leap forward, there is still much research to be done before a natural athlete’s foot cream can be marketed. Harris needs a company or startup group to help fund additional research and clinical trials. Before human trials, animal trials will be needed to determine exact dosage and side effects. “It takes time to find the right partner,” he said, adding: “I think a product could be ready to go to market in the next five to 10 years.”


Probiotics are responsible for 70% of our immune system functioning, so it makes sense that there would be medical applications. Image Source:

Consistency Is Key To Any Cure For Athlete’s Foot.

Another issue is that they need to achieve 100% consistency in their results. Not all amphibian experiments have been successful. In some cases, the good bacteria disappears and frogs become more susceptible to infection. “If you add the bacteria into the frog, we analyze it and it sometimes disappears,” says Revollar. “We’re trying to look for ways to keep the concentration in the probiotics constant.” Despite the challenges that lie ahead, the team says they are excited for where this project may lead.

In The Meantime…

Until a groundbreaking new athlete’s foot cure comes our way, we will have to rely on the best products we can find. A good place to start is by taking an over-the-counter antifungal like Lamisil or Lotrimin. These topical medications may take anywhere from one to six weeks to heal your athlete’s foot. During this time, be sure you have used a SteriShoe UV shoe sanitizer to kill off 99.9% of the residual fungus lingering in your footwear, as re-infection is common.


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