One of the principal causes of diarrheal diseases in developed countries is the well-known enterohemorrhagic E. coli bacterium, which is responsible for approximately 110,000 cases in the United States alone each year. Some of the cases involving E. coli can present major complications, such as the development of colitis or hemolytic uremic syndrome.
Due to the critical nature of better understanding this disease, a research group at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) in Galveston have been working on developing a possible vaccine for E coli. Dr. Alfredo Torres, head of the research group, is working to provide a viable treatment for one of the world’s worst food-borne diseases.
“Every year, we have an average of 5 to 6 different outbreaks in the United States associated with this bacteria,” says Dr. Alfredo Torres. “In recent years, you may remember, there have been different outbreaks associated with consumption of peanuts or lettuce contaminated with E. coli.”
The principal cause of the symptoms of E. coli infection are a result of the different toxins secreted by the pathogen.”This E. coli produces a toxin, and this toxin can travel to the kidneys of the infected patients, particularly in infants and elderly people, and target the kidney and basically the kidney malfunctions,” Dr. Torres explained.
In an attempt to target the problem, Dr. Torres and collaborators have identified an important number of these toxins and antigens that can act as the stimuli that initiates an immune response. Working at selecting the best pool of antigens, the research group is trying to develop a vaccine that could improve public health by avoiding the contraction of the disease altogether.
Due to the high number of antigen’s combination, the group is currently working with several vaccine candidates. They hope to be able to have some of these potential vaccines tested through clinical trials in about 3 to 5 years. “That’s the goal we’re trying to reach.” Dr. Torres said.