DEC 02, 2015 5:05 PM PST

A New Remedy for Whooping Cough

WRITTEN BY: Kerry Evans
Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin, in collaboration with Synthetic Biologics Inc., developed an antibody-based therapy for whooping cough.

Whooping cough is a bacterial infection caused by Bordetella pertussis.  Antibiotics are not always effective and it is highly contagious, infecting nearly 16 million people each year worldwide.  B. pertussis is particularly virulent because it produces a toxin.  Pertussis toxin (PT) enters cells where it prevents G proteins from interacting with G protein-coupled receptors, shutting down many vital cellular processes. PT also causes lymphocytosis, an increase in white blood cells in the blood.  These white blood cells interfere with lung function and contribute to the characteristic cough.  While there is a vaccine, it is not licensed for use in infants under 6 weeks of age.
 
Whooping cough is caused by Bordetella pertussis.
 
With this in mind, the University of Texas researchers, led by chemical engineer Jennifer Maynard, developed two antibodies that neutralize PT.  The antibodies bind the toxin, preventing it from attaching to and entering cells.  When the group injected mice with the antibodies then infected them with B. pertussis, they were protected from infection.  The group then infected non-human primates and administered the antibodies.  In this case, the antibody treatment decreased white blood cell levels and sped up recovery.    
According to Maynard, “in the developing world, an estimated 200,000 babies die a year, and that's where we think we can have a really big impact … if we can get our antibodies to these high-risk infants, we could potentially prevent the infection from occurring in the first place”.  The group licensed the antibodies to Synthetic Biologics Inc., and they hope to begin human clinical trials soon.  

While this new antibody-based therapy sounds promising, I’m left with a lingering question.  Will Synthetic Biologics be able to distribute their antibody therapy to the developing world even though (evidently) the whooping cough vaccine hasn’t made it there?  Guess we’ll wait and see.

Sources: Eurekalert, Synthetic Biologics, Inc., Wikipedia
 
About the Author
  • Kerry received a doctorate in microbiology from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.
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