New imaging technique detects bacteria in infections

December 23rd, 2008 - 11:13 am ICT by IANS  

London, Dec 23 (IANS) A sensitive imaging technique relying on bioluminescence enables scientists to detect bacteria in chronic infections. For instance, Listeria monocytogenes is a type of pathogenic bacteria that can cause severe illness and death. Listeria outbreaks recently claimed 20 lives in Canada.

Besides, Listeria infection is the third most common cause of bacterial meningitis in newborns, and can cause abortion and stillbirth. When the infection is not caught in time, treatment can be difficult and take weeks to clear with intravenous administration of antibiotics.

Therefore, in order to understand how this pathogen can be so elusive and difficult to treat, a research team from Stanford University School of Medicine studied mice infected with Listeria.

Using bioluminescence, they found that small persistent patches of Listeria took up residence inside bone marrow in the mice.

This is significant because it is thought that the bone marrow can act as a reservoir to the brain and spinal cord, potentially causing life-threatening infections, such as in bacterial meningitis in newborns.

Clinical trials are currently underway in which non-disease-causing strains of Listeria are administered to cancer patients to generate immune responses against tumours, according to a Stanford university statement. The findings were published in Disease Models & Mechanisms (DMM).

Researchers also looked at these attenuated strains, and found that they too could be harboured in bone marrow. It is still unclear, however, if such bacterial persistence will increase or decrease therapeutic effects.

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