Vaccine might guard against bacteria that cause diarrhoea in kids

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  • Campylobacter-associated diarrhoea affects millions of children every year in developing nations
  • An experimental vaccine has been proven very effective in monkeys
  • The vaccine still has to undergo clinical trials in humans

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An experimental vaccine helps protect monkeys against bacteria that cause diarrhoea in millions of children worldwide, researchers report.

Bacterial gastroenteritis – a digestive problem associated with malnutrition among millions of children younger than age five each year in developing nations – can be caused by Campylobacter bacteria. Repeated infections can stunt growth and impair brain development.

Developing an effective Campylobacter vaccine could help improve the health of people who are regularly exposed to the bacteria due to poor sanitation, according to the researchers.

The experimental vaccine uses bacteria that have been inactivated by a hydrogen peroxide-based approach called HydroVax technology.

A problem around the world

For the study, the researchers tested it on several strains of Campylobacter in rhesus monkeys and found that it was 83% effective in preventing Campylobacter-associated diarrhoea, according to the report published on 24 June in the journal Science Advances.

"We're hoping to move forward into clinical trials because this is a huge problem around the world," said study co-senior author Mark Slifka, a professor at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU), in Portland.

"Campylobacter has been associated with infant growth stunting. Targeting a disease like this can help a lot of people – including kids in developing countries – grow stronger by reducing the damage caused by these bacteria," Slifka said in a university news release.

There were no harmful side effects in the monkeys or in mice that received the vaccine, the study authors noted.

Exciting opportunity

"We are happy with the safety of the vaccine so far, but in the end, the vaccine will need to be studied in humans in the form of Phase 1 clinical trials in order to directly answer this important question," Slifka said.

Study co-senior author Ian Amanna added that the problem is not limited to developing countries.

"Along with the exciting opportunity to help children in developing countries, many people don't realise how much of a problem Campylobacter is here in the US," said Amanna, vice president for research at Najit Technologies, an OHSU spinoff.

"Studies have shown that these bacteria are responsible for up to $5.6 billion (R98 billion) in economic costs annually in America," Amanna said.

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