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New Hope For E. Coli Treatment

New Hope For E. Coli TreatmentDr. Saul Tzipori of the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine leads a team that has developed a treatment for early-stage E. Coli infection.

No. Grafton, Mass. [10.19.06] In the wake of a nationwide E. coli scare, researchers at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University have developed a treatment that may help those in the early onset of infection by the most virulent strain of the bacteria. Over the last eight years, world-renowned infectious disease expert Dr. Saul Tzipori has been leading a team that has been working toward an antibody for Escherichia coli 0157.

"It won't prevent [kidney] damage that has occurred already, but it will reduce or minimize the overall damage if we intervene at the right time," Tzipori told the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.

The discovery is part of a large-scale infectious disease research initiative at the Cummings School. In 2003, Tufts received a seven-year, $25 million government contract from the National Institutes of Health to study food- and water-borne illnesses. With the grant, Tufts established a Microbiology Research Unit in the new nationwide Food and Waterborne Disease Integrated Research Network, with Tzipori, Distinguished Professor of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases and Agnes Varis University Chair in Science and Society, leading the initiative. Dr. Arthur Donohue-Rolfe, an associate professor of biomedical sciences, was also a key member of the team developing treatments for E. coli.

The E. coli bacteria, Tzipori told the Telegram & Gazette, is naturally present in most mammals and birds. Recently, an outbreak of E. coli 0157 that sickened dozens and killed at least three people prompted a nationwide recall of bagged spinach.

Infection is often first indicated by diarrhea or bloody diarrhea. "In kids, this is much more devastating," Tzipori told the newspaper, noting that a toxin produced by E. coli causes the diarrhea and can also enter the bloodstream, traveling to the kidneys and potentially causing death. The toxin can travel more swiftly in a child's body, he noted.

"We believe [the team’s treatment] is best used when people show up with bloody diarrhea," Tzipori told the newspaper. "It won't prevent the diarrhea, but it will certainly prevent the complications."

The remedy developed by Tzipori's team attacks the toxin with human antibodies, which are deemed safer than antibiotics that can actually increase the amount of toxin in a child, the newspaper reported.

"It really acts like your own vacuum, intercepting the toxin molecules and deactivating them so they won't affect the kidney or brain," he told the Telegram & Gazette.

Clinical trials in humans are currently planned to take place at Tufts-New England Medical Center this spring, the Telegram & Gazette reported.

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