In order to cause serious disease, meningococcal bacteria need to be able to move from the back of the throat into the bloodstream and spread around the body. These bacteria need iron to survive, and in the bloodstream the source of iron is either heme or haemoglobin. The researchers have identified a protein produced by meningococcal bacteria that allows them to use these sources of iron in the bloodstream. The protein is called heme binding protein 1 (HBP1). Earlier experiments have indicated that this protein may be useful in a vaccine to protect against meningococcal disease.
What the researchers did
The researchers first checked to see whether most meningococcal bacteria actually have the gene that makes HBP1 and found that they all do, but some make a slightly different version. They prepared samples of these different versions and found that antibodies raised against one HBP1 version were able to recognise all the different versions tested. They also found that the antibodies were able to activate components of human blood, allowing killing of the meningococcal bacteria.
The difference this could make
The results of this project could lead to the development of a vaccine offering broader protection against meningococcal disease and could also be applied to protection against other infectious diseases.
The project was completed in November 2013 and the researchers are keen to continue the investigation of this potential vaccine candidate. They have filed a patent application and are in discussion with the venture capital sector.
Help support our research
This research is only made possible by the generous support of people like YOU. Help us continue by donating or raising funds for our work. On behalf of everyone who will benefit, now and in the future, thank you.
Professor Jon Sayers, Professor Andrew Heath, Professor Robert Read
University of Sheffield
If you would like more information about this project, or our research in general, please contact Jane on JaneB@meningitisnow.org.