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Exciting new weapon in the fight against Group B Strep

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    As Group B Strep Awareness Month continues, this blog describes a recent experiment looking at how mice respond to infection with Group B Strep and how the results of the study may lead to new strategies to combat infection in pregnant women and babies.

    By Abigail Ringer

According to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Group B Streptococcal (GBS) bacteria is the most common cause of life-threatening infection in newborn babies and is passed on to babies by their mothers. GBS can result in still birth, preterm birth, sepsis and meningitis. In order to combat this infection, it is fundamental that the body’s response to invasion by the bacteria is properly understood. In understanding how the bacteria can thrive, we can also understand how it can be destroyed.

Earlier this year, Dr Kothary and his team based in Nashville, USA published the results of their study which involved infecting pregnant mice with GBS to see how the mice responded to the infection. I have just been reading the results of their experiment which reveal a potential new strategy to fight GBS infection in mothers and babies.

How does the body respond to Group B Strep Infection?

Many pregnant women carry GBS bacteria on the surface of their vaginas without it causing any problems at all. However, some babies can become infected by GBS when the bacteria travel up the vagina into the womb where it can reach the baby or by coming into contact with the bacteria during vaginal birth.

When the GBS bacteria travel up the vagina during pregnancy, the bacteria may thrive and multiply rapidly and the membranes surrounding the baby may become infected. In response to infection, the body mobilizes its immune system with its army of miniature weapons to fight the bacteria. One of the first weapons on the scene are neutrophils which work by ingesting and killing the bacteria.

The study

The study involved first infecting pregnant mice with GBS bacteria and then examining how the mice dealt with it. In response to the GBS bacteria, the mice’s immune system kicked into action and sent neutrophils to the site of the infection to fight the invading bacteria as expected.

Although the role of neutrophils in fighting infection has been well documented for many years, this study has revealed more about the role of neutrophils and other weapons of the immune system in combating GBS bacteria.

The experiment showed that once at the site of infection, the neutrophils formed more complex traps which then contain other proteins that fight infection. The traps are akin to an armoured tank studded with weapons.

The GBS bacteria require iron in order to function and rather intriguingly, the study reveals how one of the weapons on the neutrophil tank is a protein that gobbles up iron to stop it being used by the bacteria. The protein is called Lactoferrin and the GBS bacteria are essentially being starved to death through lack of iron!

A potential new treatment for Group B Strep

This research is vital in a world where the usefulness of antibiotics is decreasing and a better understanding of these iron gobbling weapons within the human immune system could lead to novel new treatments for GBS.

As a lawyer working with families affected by GBS in young babies, this research is an encouraging step forward in the war against Group B Strep. Please get in touch if you would like to discuss anything in relation to this blog.

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