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New Vaccine Could Help Keep A Hypervirulent Superbug At Bay

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Bacteria are evolving fast in developing resistance against antibiotics. These “superbugs” are extremely dangerous and one of them which is attracting concern is KLEBSIELLA pneumonia. These bacteria were once confined to hospitals, but now they are spreading around the world, affecting many lives. To eliminate this problem, a new vaccine has been developed which shows promising results against the bug when tested on mice.

What is K. pneumonia?

The deadly bacteria has been a pest in hospitals for many years and affected patients residing in the hospital for various reasons. The bacteria causes a type of pneumonia and has potentially become resistant to many antibiotics, including the drugs which were considered as the last resort. It was deadly for children, but now it has become dangerous for elderly people with weaker immune systems.

“For a long time, Klebsiella was primarily an issue in the hospital setting, so even though drug resistance was a real problem in treating these infections, the impact on the public was limited,” says David Rosen, co-author of the new study. “But now we’re seeing Klebsiella strains that are virulent enough to cause death or severe disease in healthy people in the community. And in the past five years, the resistant bugs and the virulent bugs have begun to merge so we’re beginning to see drug-resistant, hypervirulent strains. And that’s very scary.”

The new vaccine shows a promise.

Medical professionals believe that some drugs have a hard time killing bacteria when it takes hold in the body, therefore it is probably better to kill them before they can establish their territory in the first place. So, a team of researchers from Washington University in St. Louis has developed a vaccine against K. pneumonia.

The idea is to train the patients’ immune system to recognize the invaders and prepare the body to fight them off before their arrival. The vaccine is made out of sugars that coat the bacteria. The sugar is connected to a specific protein that makes the vaccine more effective, as it uses bacterial enzymes as a glue. To speed up the chemical synthesis process, the researchers engineered a strain of E. coli that produced sugar.

Test and the results.

The team tested the vaccine in mouse models. 20 animals were given 3 doses of vaccine in the time frame of two weeks. Another group of mouse models was given a placebo. Later, they introduced small amounts of K1 and K2 bacteria. The research showed that in the placebo group, 20 percent of the mice survived with K1 and 70 percent with K2.

“We are very happy with how effective this vaccine was,” says Mario Feldman, the first author of the study. “We’re working on scaling up production and optimizing the protocol so we can be ready to take the vaccine into clinical trials soon.”