Targeting bacterial meningitis in babies | Action Medical Research

Touching Lives - September 2016

Targeting bacterial meningitis in babies

Research funded by Action has shown promising results for a new treatment that could protect vulnerable newborn babies from bacterial meningitis – a disease that can kill very quickly.

Although survival rates have been increasing, one in 10 babies who contract bacterial meningitis dies and around half who survive go on to develop some form of disability.

Around 16 per cent of cases of bacterial meningitis affecting newborn babies are caused by the E.coli bacterium. Most people have E.coli in their gut without getting ill, thanks to a protective layer of mucus that stops the bacteria from entering the bloodstream. But in newborn babies the E.coli bacteria – which may be transferred from the mother during birth – block the production of a protein, called Tff2, which is used to make this protective mucus layer, leaving these babies more vulnerable to disease.

With Action funding awarded in 2012 Professor Peter Taylor, of University College London, has tested whether the Tff2 protein could be developed as a preventative treatment for babies at greatest risk. This could speed up formation of the gut’s protective mucus layer, stopping the bacteria from entering a baby’s blood.

Laboratory work has shown that this approach does work, increasing chances of survival by 30 to 40 per cent.

The research team plan to apply for a patent for the treatment and to conduct further safety tests before moving onto clinical trials in at-risk babies, hopefully within the next four years.

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