Scientists develop promising vaccine for recurrent STI infections

This year has highlighted the protection offered by vaccines, and preventing infections other than COVID is now the next frontier of medicine.

Last week we reported on how scientists may have discovered a vaccine for Alzheimer’s disease, and now they are a step closer to a jab to prevent recurrent urinary tract infections (UTIs).

UTIs are one of the most common infections in older adults, with more than 10 per cent of women older than 65 years reporting one in the past 12 months.

Read: Scientists may have found a potential vaccine for Alzheimer’s

Older adults have a higher incidence of UTIs and symptoms can also be more severe. They also primarily affect women, with as many as 50 per cent of women experiencing at least one UTI in their lifetime.

Researchers at the University of Texas have been investigating the use of vaccines to fight UTIs as part of an effort to tackle the increasingly serious issue of antibiotic resistant bacteria, and they claim to have discovered a promising method.

Researchers Dr Nicole De Nisco and Dr Jeremiah Gassensmith said they had created a ‘depot’ that allowed the vaccines to last longer in the body.

Read: Fears of COVID-19 infection at an all-time high

The study found that the whole-call vaccine method the scientists had developed, when tested in mice, produced substantially enhanced antibody production that survived for longer in the body.

“Vaccination as a therapeutic route for recurrent UTIs is being explored because antibiotics are not working anymore,” Dr De Nisco said.

“Patients are losing their bladders to save their lives because the bacteria cannot be killed by antibiotics or because of an extreme allergy to antibiotics, which is more common in the older population than people may realise.”

Read: The diabetes treatment that can fight COVID

Dr De Nisco said recurrent UTIs were primarily a women’s health issue, and although it was common – especially in postmenopausal women – it was usually a topic most women avoided.

“Every subsequent infection becomes more difficult to treat,” Dr De Nisco said.

“Even if you clear the bacteria from the bladder, populations persist elsewhere and usually become resistant to the antibiotic used.

“When patients accumulate antibiotic resistances, they’re eventually going to run out of options.”

Vaccines work by introducing a small amount of killed or weakened disease-causing germs, or some of their components, to the body. These antigens prompt the immune system to produce antibodies against a particular disease.

However, building vaccines against bacteria, instead of viruses, is inherently difficult because bacteria are significantly larger and more complex than viruses.

This is how the University of Texas researchers decided to try a whole-cell vaccines rather than choosing just a piece of the bacterium.

“We throw the whole kitchen sink at them because that’s what your body normally sees when it becomes infected,” Dr Gassensmith said.

The whole-cell approach has its own issues, however.

“Vaccines using whole-cell dead bacteria haven’t succeeded because the cells typically don’t last long enough in the body to produce long-term, durable immune responses,” Dr Gassensmith said.

Which is when they developed the framework to create a ‘depot’ to allow the bacteria to survive for longer in the body.

“It allows an intact, dead pathogen to exist in tissue longer, as if it were an infection, in order to trigger a full-scale immune system response,” Dr Gassensmith said.

“When we challenged these mice with a lethal injection of bacteria, after they were vaccinated, almost all of our animals survived, which is a much better performance than with traditional vaccine approaches.

“This result was repeated multiple times, and we’re quite impressed with how reliable it is.”

Although the method has not yet been tested in humans, Dr De Nisco said it has the potential to help millions of patients.

If you are unsure whether you have a UTI, symptoms can include:

  • burning on urination
  • going to the toilet more frequently
  • urgency / the feeling of needing to urinate
  • fever
  • chills
  • lower abdominal/pelvic pain
  • back pain
  • cloudy and/or smelly urine
  • urinary incontinence/ leakage of urine
  • blood in the urine
  • fatigue
  • nausea.

Older adults may also experience changes in behaviour such as confusion and agitation if they are suffering from a UTI.

Older adults are thought to be more at risk from UTIs because they may have:

  • weaker immune systems
  • associated medical conditions that cause greater urine retention, such as Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, prolapsed bladder or an enlarged prostate
  • incontinence of the bladder or bowel
  • the presence of a urinary catheter
  • a history of recurrent UTIs
  • lower levels of estrogen (in post-menopausal women).

Have you had a UTI? Would you sign up for a UTI vaccine as soon as one became available? Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below?

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Written by Ben