Genetic tweaking could create chlamydia vaccine

Sexually transmitted chlamydial infection is silent but insidious--there can be just a few mild symptoms but the damage is irreversible, leaving some women infertile or with long-term pain. There is currently no vaccine, but an Indiana University researcher has been given $2.3 million to try to create one.

The award, from the National Institutes of Health, will support David E. Nelson and his team to genetically modify variants of Chlamydia trachomatis, which is also the leading cause of infectious blindness (trachoma) worldwide. This tweaking of the genome will help researchers understand why the bacteria is specific to certain tissues and hosts, and how it manages to hide from the immune system. This knowledge, it is hoped, will lead to a vaccine.

"In the long term we hope our work provides clues toward designing a vaccine and developing strong models of human chlamydial disease," Nelson said. "But most immediately we're looking to identify and characterize the factors that allow this pathogen to grow, how it interacts with other bacteria and how it avoids host immune systems so well."

Chlamydia is the most commonly reported bacterial infection in the United States, with more than 1.3 million people infected in 2010. The infection can be treated easily with antibiotics. However, either because the infection can be silent, or because it's sexually transmitted, not everyone comes forward for treatment. Until a vaccine is available, abstaining from sex or using condoms is the only surefire way to be safe.

- read the press release