Instant immune booster dramatically improves outcome of bacterial meningitis and pneumonia

March 24, 2014, University of Leicester
Professor Wilhelm Schwaeble and team at University of Leicester. Credit: University of Leicester

A breakthrough study from University of Leicester shows low dose injections of artificial properdin provides substantial protection against septic diseases in mice.

"I am really excited about this landmark discovery. We demonstrate that boosting the system can have a significant impact on the body's ability to defend itself against life-threatening infections" - Professor Wilhelm Schwaeble from the University of Leicester's Department of Infection, Immunity and Inflammation

Researchers at the University of Leicester have produced an artificial version of a naturally occurring protein, properdin, which has been found to successfully combat bacterial pneumonia and meningitis when tested in mice.

In the new study, published today (24 March) in the online early edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the researchers have shown that a booster of the innate immune defence has a profound and immediate effect on the body's ability to clear infections, even when the bacteria have reached the bloodstream.

The study, funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC), found artificially produced properdin (Pn) to be 100 times more efficient at fighting infection than naturally occurring properdin, offering significant protection in mice against Streptococcus pneumoniae and Neisseria meningitidis infections.

Streptococcus pneumoniae is the leading cause of pneumonia and a major cause of septicaemia and meningitis, responsible for approximately 1.2 million deaths per year globally. Neisseria meningitidis causes epidemic bacterial meningitis and septicaemia with a high mortality in children and young adults.

Research lead Professor Wilhelm Schwaeble, Professor of Immunology and Royal Society-Wolfson Research Merit Award Holder from the University of Leicester, explained: "I am really excited about this landmark discovery. We demonstrate that boosting the innate immune system can have a significant impact on the body's ability to defend itself against life-threatening infections."

An additional benefit of this treatment is that it was shown to effectively neutralise the harmful toxins released by bacteria when they are destroyed. There is a recognised problem with current treatments which can kill bacteria but do not combat the effects of toxic substances inside or released from bacteria, which often prove more harmful than the bacteria itself.

The artificial properdin was shown to kill bacteria by making them 'pop' like balloons in mouse and human blood with massive numbers of bacteria being directly destroyed following Pn treatment. This method was also tested by the researchers on human blood in the lab where it was found to have a similar combative effect.

Professor Schwaeble added: "What is especially exciting is that the infected mice continued to look healthy and normal after Pn treatment. We feared that the release of meningococcal debris into the bloodstream as a consequence of this treatment could prove to be fatal, however, the fact that treated mice looked healthy after infection indicates that the Pn also has a neutralising effect on the potentially toxic bacterial debris released.

"Next, we will expand our research to investigate other bacterial strains to assess which infectious diseases can be most effectively treated by Pn injections. We are also preparing the human Pn for toxicological studies and hope to see the first in-human trials within the next five years."

Professor David Wynford-Thomas, Pro-Vice Chancellor, Head of the College of Medicine, Biological Sciences and Psychology and Dean of Medicine at the University said: "This work is the latest in a series of high-profile research achievements by Professor Schwaeble's group. It represents an excellent example of what is now often called 'translational' research – the application of basic scientific knowledge to develop novel approaches to the treatment of human disease – which is a key priority of the College of Medicine, Biological Sciences and Psychology at the University of Leicester."

Dr Desmond Walsh, Head of Infections and Immunity at the Medical Research Council, added: "New treatments to combat bacterial infection are sorely needed. This study shows for the first time that enhancing the natural defence mechanisms to bacteria with artificial proteins may be a viable alternative in the fight against bacterial infection.

"The team in Leicester have taken the first steps in demonstrating this exciting approach in animal models and are planning to extend their experiments into humans. Their work is an excellent example of how the basic research the MRC funds can help in the development of new therapies, as well as demonstrating our commitment to tackling the challenges of infectious diseases."

Explore further: How localized bacterial infections can turn into dangerous sepsis

More information: Youssif Mohammed Ali, Azam Hayat, Bayad Mawlood Saeed, Kashif S. Haleem, Saleh Alshamrani, Hany I. Kenawy, Viviana P. Ferreira, Gurpanna Saggu, Anna Buchberger, Peter J. Lachmann, Robert B. Sim, Dimitrios Goundis, Peter W. Andrew, Nicholas J. Lynch, and Wilhelm J. Schwaeble. 'Low-dose recombinant properdin provides substantial protection against Streptococcus pneumonia and Neisseria meningitidis infection' Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS):

Related Stories

How localized bacterial infections can turn into dangerous sepsis

March 20, 2014
We carry numerous bacteria on our skin, in our mouth, gut, and other tissues, and localized bacterial infections are common and mostly not harmful. Occasionally, however, a localized infection turns into dangerous systemic ...

Re-writing the research on the treatment of infection

October 10, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—A major breakthrough in the search for alternatives to antibiotics and the treatment of infection could provide microbiologists with a whole new insight into the way germs co-exist with or attack humans.

Relationship between gut bacteria, blood cell development helps immune system fight infection

March 12, 2014
The human relationship with microbial life is complicated. At almost any supermarket, you can pick up both antibacterial soap and probiotic yogurt during the same shopping trip. Although there are types of bacteria that can ...

Recommended for you

Immunosuppressive cells in newborns play important role in controlling inflammation in early life

January 15, 2018
New research led by The Wistar Institute, in collaboration with Sun Yat-sen University in China, has characterized the transitory presence of myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSCs) in mouse and human newborns, revealing ...

Memory loss from West Nile virus may be preventable

January 15, 2018
More than 10,000 people in the United States are living with memory loss and other persistent neurological problems that occur after West Nile virus infects the brain.

Mould discovery in lungs paves way for helping hard to treat asthma

January 15, 2018
A team at The University of Manchester have found that in a minority of patients they studied, a standard treatment for asthma—oral steroids—was associated with increased levels of the treatable mould Aspergillus in the ...

Fast food makes the immune system more aggressive in the long term

January 12, 2018
The immune system reacts similarly to a high fat and high calorie diet as to a bacterial infection. This is shown by a recent study led by the University of Bonn. Particularly disturbing: Unhealthy food seems to make the ...

Past exposures shape immune response in pediatric acute respiratory infections

January 12, 2018
Acute respiratory tract infections (ARTI) are the leading global cause of death in early childhood, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Lower respiratory tract infections, including bronchiolitis ...

Scientists identify immune cells that keep gut fungi under control

January 11, 2018
Immune cells that process food and bacterial antigens in the intestines control the intestinal population of fungi, according to a new study from Weill Cornell Medicine scientists. Defects in the fungus-fighting abilities ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Mar 24, 2014
Nootropics for the immune system? Brilliant. Just don't make the immune system too eager. :D

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.