Academic journal article Bulletin of the World Health Organization

Brazilian Genomics Breakthrough Offers Hope for Leptospirosis Control

Academic journal article Bulletin of the World Health Organization

Brazilian Genomics Breakthrough Offers Hope for Leptospirosis Control

Article excerpt

A team of Brazilian researchers has sequenced the genome of a bacterium which causes leptospirosis, a disease which infects over 100 000 people and causes 1000 deaths worldwide every year. The breakthrough has been hailed as a first step towards creating a vaccine against one of the world's most widespread zoonoses (diseases affecting both humans and animals).

"The research is important since ... it will open new opportunities for developing quicker and more precise diagnostic tests and vaccines for preventing leptospirosis," said Dr Carlos Morel from the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, a biomedical research centre linked to Brazil's Ministry of Health.

The researchers, whose findings were published in the Brazilian Journal of Medical and Biological Research (2004;37:459-77), analysed the 4.6-million-base-pair genome of the strain of bacteria mainly responsible for the disease in Brazil, Leptospira interrogans serovar Copenhageni. The results of their research have pointed to the identification of candidate proteins for this purpose. Although leptospirosis can be treated with antibiotics, when left untreated it can lead to kidney damage, liver failure and, in extreme cases, death.

"We have already isolated 23 proteins ... that we consider potentially important for the development of a vaccine against leptospirosis," said Ana Lucia Tabet Oller do Nascimento, a researcher from Butantan Institute in Sao Paulo and lead author of the study. The 23 proteins were selected because of their ability to induce the production of antibodies in humans, explained Nascimento. "However, we need now to test if such antibodies are in fact protective against the disease," she added. The researchers are now analysing another 200 proteins.

Despite the success of their research Nascimento estimated it would take around ten years to develop a vaccine or any other product offering protection against the disease.

"Nothing is done in the short term when we are talking about developing a vaccine, which includes several steps between the sequencing and the final product. To believe that genomics can shorten such a period of time is to believe in magic or miracles," said Morel who views genomics research as a potentially powerful tool for controlling developing country diseases.

Leptospirosis occurs worldwide in urban and rural areas and in both tropical and temperate regions, mostly in developing countries. …

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