Connor O’Meara from QUT’s Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation (IHBI) said working on controlling the body’s response to Chlamydia was the key to preventing infertility.
“The infertility that can develop as a result of a Chlamydia infection occurs as an indirect result of the body’s immune response trying to get rid of the infection and not from the Chlamydia itself,” he said.
“Therefore, if we can manipulate this harmful immune response we can prevent infertility.”
Mr O’Meara said while trialling the use of adjuvants (agents commonly used in vaccines) he uncovered a way of effectively “switching-off” the body’s harmful immune response. While the immune response kills the Chlamydia bacteria, it also causes massive scarring to the reproductive system, causing infertility.
“We have been able to suppress the body’s damaging immune response and prevent infertility, but what is most interesting is that this protection developed independently of the control of the infection,” he said.
The research has earned Mr O’Meara the title of state winner for the AusBiotech/GSK Student Excellence Awards and given him the opportunity to represent Queensland at the AusBiotech national conference this week.
“Common practice is to try and develop a vaccine to get rid of the infection; however, this approach often fails to prevent infertility,” he said.
“We’re trying to train the body not to react so aggressively towards an infection; essentially making Chlamydia harmless.”
Mr O’Meara said they were also looking at a vaccine that could be delivered without needles.
“Queensland currently has the highest levels of Chlamydia infections per capita in Australia and national notification rates are increasing by almost 20 per cent each year,” he said.
“It is also estimated that untreated Chlamydia infections cost the Australian health system $90-$160 million each year.
“This work will help influence how we design future vaccines against Chlamydia, but also other pathogens that cause disease as a result of the body’s immune response.”
AusBiotech and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) hold the annual competition as a key initiative to encourage more students to pursue research and consider a career in bio-sciences.
The prize seeks to reward those young researchers striving to develop innovative solutions to health issues in the community and recognise their high achievement, unique work and innovations.
Media contact: Alita Pashley, QUT media officer, 07 3138 1841 or alita.pashley@ qut.edu.au