Prof Robert Read, director of the NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Centre in England, and his team have inserted a gene into a harmless bacterium that will be able to live in the nose.
Clinical trials are set to be launched to establish whether the modified bacteria will protect against the bacterial species responsible for causing a severe type of meningitis.
Around 10% of adults carry Neisseria meningitidis — the cause of meningococcal meningitis — in the back of their nose and throat with no signs or symptoms.
However, in some people, this bacterium can invade the bloodstream and cause life-threatening infections including meningitis and blood poisoning, known as septicaemia.
In a previous study, the research team found inoculating adults with a “friendly” bacterial strain, known as Neisseria lactamica (Nlac), which is a close cousin of N. meningitidis, resulted in Nlac settling harmlessly in the nose for months and prevented them carrying N. meningitidis at the same time.
They now hope genetically enhancing the bacteria with a “sticky” surface protein from N.meningitidis will increase the ability of Nlac to reside in the nose and generate a strong immune response that protects against the meningitis-causing bacteria.
Prof Read said that, if successful, the technique could be used to prevent other infections such as pneumonia and ear disease.
Meningococcal meningitis, which is a bacterial form of the disease, can cause death in as little as four hours from the onset of symptoms.
Meanwhile, scientists from Trinity College Dublin have made a significant breakthrough in understanding the regulation of immune cells that play a pivotal role in allergic diseases such as asthma and eczema.
They have identified a “checkpoint” manned by these immune cells that, if barred, can halt the development of the lung inflammation associated with allergies.
The discovery now provides a potential new target for drug developers to home in on. In theory, a drug that successfully regulates this newly pinpointed ‘checkpoint’ would better control overly aggressive allergic responses.
The work has just been published in the leading peer-reviewed medical journal The Journal of Experimental Medicine.
Allergic conditions, such as asthma or eczema, arise when the immune system misfires and sparks an uncontrolled response to common allergens, such as house dust mites.
In asthma this aberrant immune response leads to immune cells infiltrating the lungs, where they cause inflammation that affects lung function and leads to difficulties in breathing.