The probiotic bacterium (blue) with E. coli Shiga toxin (red) bound all over its surface.
A potential life-saving treatment for severe E. coli food poisoning outbreaks—developed
more than a decade ago—hasn’t gone forward into clinical trials because of lack
of commercial interest.
Univ. of Adelaide researchers produced a
“designer” probiotic bacterium which binds and neutralizes the toxin
produced by E. coli, which
causes life-threatening attack on the kidneys and blood vessels.
The team of scientists—Dr Adrienne Paton, Associate Professor
Renato Morona, and Professor James Paton—showed that mice infected with a highly
virulent strain of E. coli
were completely protected by the probiotic bacterium.
The research was published in Nature
Medicine in 2000 and generated ongoing interest from the scientific
and medical community—but the commercial sector hasn’t taken up its development
for progress into clinical trials in humans.
“Severe E. coli
food poisoning outbreaks such as that currently occurring in Europe are
becoming increasingly common,” said Professor Paton, Director, Research Center
for Infectious Diseases in the School of Molecular
and Biomedical Science.
“They have the potential to cause wide-spread disease and
many patients develop life-threatening complications including kidney failure.
“The probiotic bacterium could be produced cheaply on a
large scale. However, in spite of on-going attention from the scientific and
medical community, there has been a lack of interest from the commercial sector
in taking this product forward into clinical trials.
“If this had been done, and the probiotic had been proven
to be safe and efficacious in humans, it could have been deployed during the
current European outbreak. This would undoubtedly have saved lives, as well as
millions of dollars in current and future health care costs.”
The researchers engineered a harmless bacterium to mimic binding
receptors for the potentially fatal Shiga toxin on its surface.
Professor Paton said after diagnosis of E. coli
infection there was a window of opportunity for therapeutic intervention before
kidneys started to fail. Antibiotics are not used because they can increase the
amount of toxin released in the gut.