Vaccine for Ulcers on the Horizon

By Schieszer, John | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), February 5, 1995 | Go to article overview

Vaccine for Ulcers on the Horizon


Schieszer, John, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


For the first time ever, scientists say, it may be possible to vaccinate people against ulcers.

Such a vaccine could help prevent a large majority of ulcers, experts say, saving billions of dollars in health care costs and even saving lives by lowering stomach cancer rates. But it would not prevent all ulcers, such as those caused by taking large doses of aspirin and other medicines.

The idea of a vaccine against ulcers seemed decades away until just recently. In February 1993, the National Institutes of Health in February of 1993 issued a consensus statement that a bacterial agent called Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) may cause some ulcers, and that patients with H. pylori infection should be treated with antibiotics.

Now a race is on among scientists to come up with a way to find out how this bacteria is transmitted, and how it can be dealt with.

"The current worldwide market for treating ulcers was, in 1992, estimated at $8 billion," says Robert Hennessey, chief executive officer at Genome Therapeutics Corporation.

His company has sequenced the genome of H. pylori. Genome Therapeutics' scientists have discovered that the bug contains approximately 2,000 genes, which determine the structures of the protein building blocks that make up H. pylori.

To most people that may sound like scientific mumbo-jumbo, but to ulcer experts it may mean a new way of treating ulcers and ultimately an ulcer vaccine.

"If you can prevent the ulcer and the need for medications and the complications of ulcer disease, a vaccine could be a great benefit," says Dr. Jeff Mathews, a gastroenterologist at St. Mary's Health Center in Clayton. He says a vaccine could mean not only fewer ulcers, but fewer cases of stomach cancer.

"There does appear to be a correlation between gastric lymphoma and H. pylori, and possibly other types of cancer such as adenocarcinoma. So a vaccine could maybe help lower some cancer rates. We still don't know how people get the infection, so the only way we would have of preventing it would be through a vaccine," says Mathews.

For now, scientists say it is uncertain how the bacteria is transmitted. But infection rates are higher in developing countries, where there is less clean water and sanitation than in the United States. …

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