Vaccine Aims to Block Bladder Infections

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Sept. 17, 2009 — For millions of women and some men, bladder infections area painful part of life.

More than half of women will have at least one urinary tract infection intheir lifetime and many will have recurrent infections. Men get them too, butmuch less often than women and usually as a result of another medical problem,such as kidney stones or an enlarged prostate.

Although easily treated in most cases, the infections are not so easilyprevented. But early animal research might lead to a nasal spray that protectsagainst bladder and other urinary tract infections.

Researchers from the University of Michigan created the nasal vaccine, whichtargets specific strains of the Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteriumthat causes most urinary tract infections.

Mouse Studies Promising

In animal studies, mice treated with three of six experimental vaccinecandidates tested by the researchers developed antibodies against the bacteriaand became resistant to infection.

The mice received an initial immunization, delivered via nasal spray,followed by two booster sprays a few weeks later, lead researcher Harry L.T.Mobley, PhD, tells WebMD.

“We screened more than 5,300 possible proteins and ended up with three thatwere very effective for preventing infection,” Mobley says.

In a separate study, the researchers looked for, and found, these proteinsin E. coli strains obtained from women treated for urinary tractinfections.

“This suggests we are on the right track and that this might prove to be aneffective vaccine in humans,” he says.

The researchers hope to test the vaccine in humans but have no firm plans todo so. Mobley says a commercially available vaccine based on the research is atbest years away.

245,000 UTI Hospitalizations Each Year

The University of Michigan researchers are not the first to attempt avaccine to prevent urinary tract infections, and urologist Tomas Griebling, MD,MPH, tells WebMD that such a vaccine makes a lot of sense.

Griebling is vice chairman of the department of urology at the University ofKansas Medical Center.

By one estimate, urinary tract infections account for 6.8 million visits todoctors, 1.3 million emergency room trips, and 245,000 hospitalizations a yearin the United States at a cost of $2.4 billion.

“The costs associated with urinary tract infections far exceed that of anyother urologic disorder,” he says.

Although in most cases the infections are not serious, when bacteria movebeyond the bladder into the kidney or the blood or when infections involveantibiotic-resistant bacteria, they can become deadly.

The death of a Brazilian model early this year was a reminder of this

Doctors reportedly misdiagnosed 20-year-old Mariana Bridi’s urinary tractinfection, which was caused not by E. coli but by another bacterium,called Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

Widespread infection led doctors to amputate Bridi’s hands and feet in aneffort to save her life, but the model died within weeks of entering thehospital.

A vaccine targeting the E. coli infection that causes most urinarytract infections would not have saved Bridi, but it could keep millions ofpeople from becoming infected each year and save the health care systembillions of dollars a year, Griebling says.

“This is an ideal infection to try and target with a vaccine because it isso common,” he says. “I would say the early research looks promising, eventhough this certainly isn’t ready for prime time. But if they could produce anasal vaccine that is safe and cost-effective it could have a dramaticimpact.”

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