Meningitis Research Foundation (MRF) welcomes the news that researchers in Southampton are leading a world-first trial of a new nose drop containing a type of modified ‘friendly’ bacteria that could help prevent meningitis.
Professor Robert Read, director of the NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Centre and Dr Jay Laver, senior research fellow at the University of Southampton have modified a harmless bacteria, known as Neisseria lactamica (Nlac), which are closely related to the meningococcal bacteria - the most common cause of life threatening meningitis and septicaemia in the UK.
They inserted a gene into the harmless form of bacteria to help it remain in the nose and cause an immune response, with the first person given the drop at the NIHR Southampton Clinical Research Facility last week.
Around 10% of adults carry the meningococcal bacteria, in the back of their nose and throat with no signs or symptoms.
However, in some people, the bacteria invade the bloodstream and cause life-threatening meningitis and septicaemia.
In a previous study, the research team found that inoculating adults with the ‘friendly’ bacterial species, resulted in Nlac settling harmlessly in the nose for months and prevented them carrying the potentially harmful meningococcal bacteria at the same time.
They now hope genetically enhancing the bacteria with a ‘sticky’ surface protein from meningococcal bacteria will increase the ability of Nlac to reside in the nose and also allow the body to generate a strong immune response against the meningitis-causing bacteria.
If successful, this could offer the potential to directly protect against disease and prevent the spread of infection.
Linda Glennie, Head of Research at Meningitis Research Foundation commented, “What is new about this project is using a genetically modified N.lactamica to try to protect against a closely related bacteria that causes meningitis.
“If it could be made to work it would be a big step forward in prevention. We need multiple tools at our disposal to combat meningitis and septicaemia and we are pleased to see that this is now beginning to undergo testing in clinical trials.”