A study which Meningitis Research Foundation members helped with has made an important discovery about how variations in a person’s genes can make them more at risk of developing meningococcal meningitis or septicaemia.
Meningococcal bacteria are the most common cause of bacterial meningitis in the UK and Ireland.
At any one time as many as one in 10 of us will harmlessly ‘carry’ meningococcal bacteria in the back of the nose and throat, yet only very few people go on to develop meningococcal meningitis or septicaemia.
The reason for this lies at least partly in our genes, with different people reacting in different ways to the presence of the bacteria in their body. For example, people with some types of genes seem to be less able to restrict meningococcal bacteria to the nose and throat, meaning it has the chance to invade the meninges or blood stream and cause meningitis or septicaemia.
The study, published in Nature, aimed to investigate this further, through using novel approaches to compare the DNA of patients affected by meningococcal disease with the DNA from healthy people to identify whether there are any genetic differences.
This led to the discovery of two new genetic variations in our DNA which were associated with an increased risk of developing meningococcal disease.
While clinical tests are not yet available to identify these genes, through improving our understanding of the way in which meningococcal bacteria invade the body and have such devastating effects, this research could help inform the development of new vaccines and treatments that could help defeat meningococcal meningitis and septicaemia.
Meningitis Research Foundation would like to thank our members and supporters who made important contributions to this research by providing samples to be included in the investigations.