First Battle Won With Antibodies

Photo: Staphylococcus aureus bacteria

Staphylococcus aureus bacteria;
© US Department of Agriculture

Every year, more than four million patients in Europe develop an infection while staying in hospital – this is because people with ill health are more susceptible than those who are healthy. Responsibility for these so-called hospital infections generally lies with the species of bacteria known as Staphylococcus aureus.

The acronym MRSA has achieved a degree of notoriety in this situation. It denotes strains of the Staphylococcus bacteria that are resistant to the antibiotic methicillin and which are almost impossible to combat using other active agents as well.

Staphylococcus aureus bacteria are also commonly found on the skin of many healthy people where they tend not to cause any problems. However, if these pathogens find their way inside the bodies of patients with weakened immune systems, they cause inflammations that are very difficult to cure.

A promising approach to treating such infections has now been discovered by scientists from the University of Würzburg together with colleagues from the Helmholtz Center for Infection Research in Braunschweig. “We have succeeded in activating a defence mechanism against Staphylococcus pathogens in mice with the help of antibodies,” says Doctor Udo Lorenz from the university’s Department of Surgery I.

The principle behind them: certain proteins are capable of attaching themselves to a very specific point on the surface of the bacterium. Once there, they can have the following different effects: no effect at all, as the worst-case scenario; as a better scenario, they neutralize the bacterium, preventing it from becoming active again; and, in the ideal scenario, they cause the body’s own immune system to destroy the bacteria.

Activating the immune effector cells: Lorenz and colleagues have now managed to do this in mice using an antibody that they themselves have developed. “We were able to show that the rate of bacteria destruction increased by 30 percent after the antibody was administered,” says Lorenz. 30 percent: a "truly dramatic advantage that could mean the difference between death and survival,” explains the medic.

As the next step in their work, the researchers now want to transfer the antibody from mice to people.


MEDICA.de; Source: Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg