London: Scientists claim to have achieved
a major breakthrough by identifying the genetic factors which
make people more vulnerable to meningitis, thus raising hopes
of developing a vaccine for the deadliest form of the disease.
An international team has, in fact, pinpointed a
family of genes involved in the body`s immune response that
render people more or less susceptible to the infection, the
`Nature Genetics` journal reported.
For their research, the scientists scoured the genetic
codes of 6,000 people for clues to why certain individuals are
vulnerable to attacks by meningococcal meningitis than others.
They looked at the genetic make-up of 1,500 people
from Britain, Holland, Austria and Spain, who had developed
meningococcal meningitis. Their DNA was compared with that of
more than 5,000 individuals who had never suffered a bacterial
The scientists, led by Imperial College London,
focused on half-a-million genetic areas which commonly vary
between individuals, in search of differences between the two
The findings showed that susceptible people had
alterations in their DNA around genes for so-called Factor H
proteins. These regulate a bacteria-fighting part of the
immune system and prevent it damaging the body`s own cells.
Meningococcal bacteria are able to "hijack" Factor H
and use it to enter the body without being attacked.