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E.Coli Treatment Development Ignored for Lack of Interest

e.coli outbreak

The deadly European E. coli outbreak that has already claimed 23 lives has left many wondering why in the advanced medical word there is still no effective E.coli treatment that could have prevented these lives from being lost.

Treatment Developed in 2000

According to researchers at the University of Adelaide, such a treatment was developed over a decade ago but ignored due to a “lack of commercial interest”. In other words, the money wasn't there.

A team of Australian scientists developed the special probiotic bacterium treatment which was found to protect mice who had been infected with a highly toxic strain of E. coli. The probiotic worked by binding to and neutralizing the deadly toxins released from the bacteria.

The research on the probiotic was published in the widely read medical journal Nature Medicine back in 2000.

In a press release statement, the researchers from the University of Adelaide said that at the time the published study generated significant interest among the scientific community. However, despite the ability for the probiotic to be developed cheaply in mass quantities, the lack of interest from the commercial sector meant that there was no money available to further develop it in human clinical trials.

The researchers solemnly reflected back at this as an opportunity lost. “If this [development] has been done, it could have been deployed during the current European outbreak. This would undoubtedly have saved lives, as well as millions of dollars in current and future health care costs,” explained Professor Jame Paton, Director, Research Centre for Infectious Disease at University of Adeliade.

Current Management of E.Coli

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When a human becomes infected with the E.Coli, the virus releases toxic substances into the digestive tract which cause bloody diarrhea, severe abdominal cramping, nausea, vomiting and fever. In some cases, these toxins are absorbed into the blood stream and can have life-threatening effects including destruction of blood cells, severe intestinal bleeding, kidney failure, and nervous system damage.

Currently there is no proven or recommended E. coli treatment. Antibiotics are not used because they can actually encourage the spread of the bacteria in the digestive tract.

Reports from German hospitals say that in desperation to save lives they have been resorting to unorthodox therapies. “The symptoms have been so dramatic and life-threatening that medics have had to try-out new treatments to save their patients,” said a report from the Associated Press. These treatments have included massive blood plasma transfers and antibiotics.

Although Dr. Christopher Braden, the Chief of Food and Waterborne Disease at the Centers for the Disease Control and Prevention says that there is little chance that the current European epidemic will reach the US, he does warn that we are not immune future outbreaks. “I am concerned about something similar that could happen in the Untied States,” he said.

Each year in the U.S over 100,000 Americans are infected with E. coli causing 80 deaths annually. This is much bigger than the current European crisis but draws less attention because it doesn't happen all at once.

The bottom line, experts agree, is that the research is available to help prevent these deaths from occurring and it is time that we begin investing in them to protect ourselves in the event of another outbreak.

Image Source: Wikimedia
University of Adelaide