Hopes for Chlamydia vaccine on horizon

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Brisbane PhD candidate Connor O’Meara has been recognised with a research excellence award from biotechnology industry bodies and pharmaceutical companies for his innovative research into the common STI Chlamydia.

The research project undertaken with the Ken Beagley Chlamydia group at the Queensland University of Technology has looked at a vaccine for the disease, focusing on a vaccine ‘design’ that will prevent the associated complications – namely infertility.

“We’ve developed a vaccine that prevents infertility, specifically by suppressing the body’s harmful immune response, which is what causes the infertility.”

“What’s interesting about this vaccine is that the protection against infertility occurs independently of the control of infection.”

Which, Connor explains in simple terms means the vaccine doesn’t just protect against infection, but provides tolerance against the disease itself.

According to Mr O’Meara, Queensland has the highest rate of Chlamydia infection per capita in Australia, and untreated cases are costing the Australian Government between $90 and $160 million each year.

“Chlamydia is a major problem for Australia, and one of the main problems is that most infections are asymptomatic, and untreated infections can lead to infertility,” which he says is where the major health costs lie.

Recent statistics from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) highlight the transmission of the disease as a rapidly growing problem for Australia’s health system reporting “the rates in 2011 were triple what they were in 2001” in a recent Social Trends report on STI’s.

Mr O’Meara says that is why he became involved in the research for a vaccine.

“A vaccine has the greatest potential to stem the rise in infection and disease prevalence but vaccines developed against Chlamydia have largely failed to prevent infertility.”

Data released by the ABS suggest infection rates of the disease have risen to account for over 80 per cent of all sexually transmitted diseases in Australia, which Mr O’Meara finds concerning.

“It’s really on the increase, especially in developed countries like the US and Australia, and it is only getting worse,” he says.

According to the World Health Organisation a vaccine for the common STI “would have a significant impact on the spread of the disease,” however “the lack of a suitable animal model and the difficulties in genetic manipulation of the bacterium has hampered progress in the field”.

But at present there is no freely available vaccine for Chlamydia, the 80,000 new notifications of the disease each year in Australia are treated with antibiotics.

Mr O’Meara’s research is part of an ongoing research process for the university’s Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation (IHBI) aimed at further developing the research from lab mice to an available needle-free vaccine.

“All researchers are essentially standing on the shoulders of giants, it’s a process, and so work that I do – people will come in after me and follow up that work so eventually what we will have at the end of it is an effective vaccine.”

“It would always be a great thing to be on the ground level for any kind of Chlamydia vaccine…[but] it is a very lengthy process and it can take up to decades unfortunately.”

After 3 years of hard days, long nights and hardly any weekend Mr O’Meara has submitted his research findings and can finally put the intense lifestyle of a PhD candidate to one side for a [little] while.

He will present his research when he recognised among his peers at an Australian biotechnology conference in early November.

ABC Brisbane

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