Professor Manuel Perez works with students in his lab. Photo: Courtesy of Manuel Perez
A complex sugar may someday become one of the most effective
weapons to stop the spread of cholera.
A technique developed by Univ.
of Central Florida scientists
would allow relief workers to test water sources that could be contaminated
with the cholera toxin. In the test, the sugar dextran is coated onto iron
oxide nanoparticles and then added to a sample of the water. If the cholera
toxin is present, the toxin will bind to the nanoparticles’ dextran. This is
because dextran looks similar to the cholera toxin receptor (GM1) found on cells’
surface in the victim’s gut.
The technique likely would be less expensive than those
currently available, and it would provide results more quickly, enabling
workers to restrict access to contaminated sources and limit the spread of the
“It’s really quite amazing,” said UCF assistant professor J.
Manuel Perez, the lead researcher on the project. “It means we have a quicker
diagnostic tool using a simple and relatively cheap sugar-nanoparticle
Early studies also show that the technique could someday be used
to treat someone infected with cholera, which is caused by poor sanitation and
dirty water, and potentially other diseases, Perez said.
More studies are needed to prove the adaptability of the
technique, but its impact could be huge. In countries with poor sanitation,
outbreaks caused by drinking contaminated water often prove fatal. Deadly toxins
also can result from bioterrorism or food contamination.
Research findings appear today in the journal Bioconjugate Chemistry.
The National Institute of General Medical Sciences at the National Institutes
of Health funded the research.
The findings may give the Federal Drug Administration, Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention, and several other agencies additional
screening tools to combat toxins. The UCF-developed technique is faster than
current detection methods, and it would likely be less expensive because these
nanoparticles are cheap to make in large quantities. The detection instruments
are compact in some cases the size of a desktop computer and a handheld
calculator, and they could be turned into mobile devices that relief workers or
food screeners could use in the field.
“As we have seen in the 2010 outbreak in Haiti, cholera
remains a serious threat,” said Janna Wehrle of the National Institutes of
Health, who oversees Perez’s and other grants that focus on protein
structures and interactions. “By developing a fast and sensitive test for
cholera toxin that does not require sophisticated equipment or refrigeration,
Drs. Perez and Teter have provided health care workers with a potentially
valuable tool for use in areas struck by natural disasters or with inadequate
infrastructure. The possibility that the novel chemistry discovered by these
investigators might also be useful for treating cholera is especially exciting.”
Studies that are under way may confirm early indications that
dextran can be an effective drug for patients infected with cholera, added UCF
Associate Professor Kenneth Teter, a co-author on the study. This could be
especially beneficial in developing countries such as Haiti, as
dextran is a relatively inexpensive compound to produce.
Additionally, both dextran and iron oxide are commonly used in
other medical applications. Dextran is often used to prevent blood clots
anticoagulant and in emergency treatments of hemorrhagic and traumatic shock.
Iron oxide nanoparticles are used to treat anemia and as MRI contrast agents to
achieve improved anatomical imaging.
Other contributors on the research team include postdoctoral
fellows Charalambos Kaittanis and Santimukul Santra of UCF’s NanoScience Technology
Center, graduate student
Oscar Santiesteban of the Chemistry Department and postdoctoral fellow Tuhina
Banerjee from the Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences.