A new study from the Australian National University (ANU) could lead to better treatment options for a rare but very deadly type of bacterial infection.
Professor Xi Ming Man and his team say their recent research focuses on a family of bacteria that cause things like gangrene, sepsis and tetanus.
“While we understand some individual members of this family of bacteria, we were interested in what others were doing to cause the infection,” Professor Maine said.
“Fortunately, this group of bacteria is rare – less than 1,000 cases a year in the United States.
“But the one we looked at in this study, Clostridium septicum, kills four of the five people who fell ill in two days. It’s incredibly deadly.”
The team found that Clostridium septicum can quickly kill cells by releasing a toxin that acts “like a hammer” by punching holes in the cell surface.
It sends a danger signal to the immune system, but when our body starts to act, it can do more harm than good.
“The immune system’s intentions are good – it’s trying to fight bacteria – but the infected cells are also exploding and dying,” Professor Maine said.
“If the bacteria are spreading and you have a lot of dying cells all over your body, it can lead to sepsis and shock. That’s why patients die very quickly. “
Although there are currently very limited treatment options, it is hoped that this study can help change this – which will lead to better results for patients.
“Our research suggests that we could develop new treatments, such as using certain drugs to neutralize the toxin,” Professor Maine said.
“We have also shown that now in clinical trials there are drugs that can block a single immune receptor, blocking your own immune system from overreacting to this toxin.
“Together it can be a rescue therapy.”
Bacteria can also be deadly to sheep and cows, so any new treatment or vaccination can be used to save livestock.
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