Melissa Healy
March 25, 2014

Between vaccine refusal, drug resistant strains of bacteria, and the growing ranks of the immuno-compromised, it sometimes seems that we humans are losing our brief moment of superiority in the unending arms race against pathogens. But a new technique has shown remarkable promise in mice infected with deadly forms of meningitis and pneumonia, and may point the way to regaining the upper hand against a wide range of infections.

A genetically reengineered version of an immune system protein called properdin appears to activate a robust immune response against invading pathogens, according to a study published Monday in the journal PNAS. The researchers were led by immunologists at the University of Leicester, England, but hailed from universities in Egypt, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Toledo, Ohio.

When mice got a low dose of the recombinant protein and then, six hours later, were infected with the bacterium N. meningitidis, only 10% of them developed sepsis and showed evidence that the bacterium had gained a foothold in their bloodstream. By contrast, 16 hours after having been infected, 100% of the mice that had received a placebo injection became fatally ill.

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