Washington, April 15: A researcher has developed a working vaccine for a strain of E. coli that kills up to three million children worldwide every year.
Enterotoxigenic E. Coli (ETEC), which accounts for 60 to 70 percent of all E. coli diarrhoeal disease, also causes health problems for US troops overseas and is responsible for what is commonly called traveller's diarrhoea.
A. Mahdi Saeed, professor of epidemiology and infectious disease in Michigan State University (MSU), has applied for a patent for his discovery and has made contact with pharmaceutical companies for commercial production.
"This strain of E. coli is an international health challenge that has a huge impact on humanity," said Saeed, who has devoted four years to develop a working vaccine at MSU's National Food Safety and Toxicology Center. "By creating a vaccine, we can save untold lives. The implications are massive."
ETEC affects millions of adults and children across the globe, mainly in the southern hemisphere countries throughout Africa and South America. It also poses a risk to US troops serving in southern Asia and the Middle East.
Saeed's breakthrough was discovering a way to overcome the molecular size of one of the illness-inducing toxins produced by the E. coli bug.
Since the toxin was so small, it did not prompt the body's defense system to develop immunity, allowing the same individual to repeatedly get sick, often with more severe health implications.
Saeed created a biological carrier to attach to the toxin that once introduced into the body induces a strong immune response. This was done by mapping the toxin's biology and structure during the design of the vaccine. Saeed's work was funded in part by a $510,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health.
After creating the carrier in a lab at MSU, Saeed and his team tested it on mice and found the biological activity of the toxin was enhanced by more than 40 percent, leading to its recognition by the body's immune system.
After immunizing a group of 10 rabbits, the vaccine led to the production of the highest neutralizing antibody ever reported for this type of the toxin, said a MSU release.
Saeed hopes that human clinical trials could begin late in the year.
First Published: Wednesday, April 15, 2009, 00:00