Washington: Researchers have developed two new antibodies that may treat or prevent whooping cough, the highly contagious respiratory tract infection that results in an estimated 200,000 child deaths every year.
Pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough, causes painful fits of coughing and life-threatening symptoms in infants and has had a devastating impact worldwide.
More than 16 million pertussis cases occur annually, and the disease continues to be a major cause of infant death in developing nations.
Researchers from The University of Texas at Austin and Synthetic Biologics, a company that develops therapeutics, have worked to develop two antibodies as a new anti-pertussis therapeutic injection.
Preclinical testing conducted on animals demonstrated that their antibodies work as a prophylaxis to provide short-term immunity and as a treatment to accelerate recovery.
When an infant is infected with pertussis, a secreted toxin, called pertussis toxin, damages the immune system and causes the infant?s white blood cell count to rise to dangerous levels in the bloodstream ? levels where the cells could block blood flow through the lungs.
The two antibodies potently neutralise pertussis toxin and could be used individually or be developed as a combination therapeutic. The first binds to the toxin and prevents it from attaching to healthy cells and the second stops the toxin from reaching its target within a healthy cell.
By neutralising pertussis toxin, the antibodies are anticipated to bolster immune function and rapidly reduce the white blood cell count.
"If we can get our antibodies to these high-risk infants, we could potentially prevent the infection from occurring in the first place," said Jennifer Maynard, a chemical engineer in the Cockrell School of Engineering at the University of Texas.
"We believe the key to preventing death is reducing the white blood cell load, which becomes extremely elevated during infection," said Michael Kaleko, senior vice president of research and development for Synthetic Biologics.
"If we can bring the count down or keep it low, the sick child may have a much better prognosis," Kaleko said.
When the team administered the antibodies before infection in mice, the treatment acted as a vaccine, giving passive immunity to pertussis.
When administered after infection in nonhuman primates, the antibodies lowered the white blood cell counts, speeding recovery.
The findings were published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.