A researcher from the University of Victoria is close to developing a vaccine against syphilis. After microbiologist Caroline Cameron secured a patent for a protein that can be used to stop the disease from entering the blood, she will continue working on a vaccine.
Although syphilis can be treated with antibiotics, the virus still infects a lot of people, says Cameron:
“It’s one of the few pathogens that hasn’t developed any sort of resistance, but yet we still have the disease, it’s still present, and it’s increasing in some populations. Clearly, just screening people for the disease presence and then treating them with antibiotics is not getting rid of the disease.”
In the past twenty years, there have been spikes in syphilis infections in B.C. Studies show that the majority of infections is among gay and bisexual men. At the moment, the rates are the highest in the past 30 years.
Targeting the Bacterium is Not Easy
But the process of developing a vaccine is not that simple, because it’s not like any virus. You cannot treat it like smallpox or measles, because there is no way to easily pinpoint what an inoculation should target inside the bacterium.
The protein that Cameron uses for her research is called TP0751. This protein helps the syphilis bacterium attach itself to the walls of the blood vessels. They will generate an antibody to respond against that proteins, explained Cameron:
“Our concept here is that you can generate an antibody response against this protein, and that will prevent the bacterium from binding to the bloodstream walls and then prevent the bacterium from disseminating into the tissues.”
So far, getting the patent for the protein is a step further to encourage businesses to invest in developing a vaccine. After that, it will have to be tested in clinical trials with animals or humans.
Andre Blair s is the lead editor for Advocator.ca. He holds a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Toronto, and a Master of Science in Public Health (M.S.P.H.) from the School of Public Health, Department of Health Administration, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Andre specializes in environmental health, but writes on a variety of issues.