Touching Lives - November 2007
Protecting children from meningitis and septicaemia
Meningitis and septicaemia are feared by health professionals worldwide. Both illnesses can kill in a matter of hours, or result in devastating disability, and the majority of cases occur in childhood. Dr Manish Sadarangani is using an Action Medical Research grant to focus on Neisseria meningitidis, the dangerous bacterium responsible for meningitis and septicaemia. N. meningitidis kills more children in the UK than any other infection — one in ten of those infected die. Survivors can be left with permanent complications, like deafness, epilepsy and learning disabilities. Some have to have fingers, toes or limbs amputated.
Dr Sadarangani is evaluating a possible new type of vaccine for meningitis and septicaemia, targeting the serogroup B type of N. meningitidis — one of the most important bugs that cause these illnesses. N. meningitidis has a molecule on its surface, called Opa, which helps it to stick to human cells, including cells of the immune system, during the infection process. Recent work suggests Opa is a candidate for incorporation into a possible future vaccine, but we don’t know exactly how it influences the behaviour of the immune system. Dr Sadarangani is investigating what Opa does to several key immune cells and is assessing the practicalities of including it in a vaccine. His work will improve our understanding of serogroup B N. meningitidis, which in turn could help in the design of future new treatments for these terrible illnesses.