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La Jolla Institute Targets E. coli’s ‘Border Guards’

E. coli maybe no more invincible that those vulnerable exhaust ports leading to the main reaction of the Death Star in the old Star Wars movie.

Just as that port was the Achilles’ heel that allowed the rebels to destroy the Death Star, researchers at the La Jolla Institute appear to have found a key molecule for combatting E. coli and other bacterial diseases.

That molecule is called the herpes virus entry mediator, or HVEM, and is supposed to protect the intestine and lungs from disease-causing bacterial infections.  Except sometimes it doesn’t and people die.

La Jolla’s research, published in the journal Nature, compares HVEM with border guards that respond with the presence of invasive bacteria by signaling the immune system to send more assistance.

Mitchell Kronenberg, La Jolla’s president and chief executive officer, says what HVEMs are supposed to do is sense what bacteria is present and then prepare for an attack. That means calling in the white blood cells and proteins to mount a defense.

La Jolla’s researchers used the E. coli O104:H4 virus and pneumonia-causing bacteria, finding in both the intestine and in the lungs, the HVEM molecule worked – somewhat unexpectedly – in the same way.

This means HVEM in the future might be used as antibodies or vaccines to fight E. coli and other bacterial diseases.

For the groundbreaking research, La Jolla used mice genetically engineered not to have HVEM.

When the laboratory mice were exposed to pneumococcus, or the mouse version of the E. coli pathogen, they had much greater susceptibility to infections because they lacked HVEM. In this way, they were like immune compromised people.

As a result of the research, Kronenberg calls HVEM “critical to protecting the body from E. coli, pneumococcus and other bacterial infections that enter our bodies through the lining of our respiratory or intestinal tracts.”

Kronenberg says there is a “fair chance” that vaccines or antibodies will be developed as a result of the La Jolla research that will help physicians treat their patients for E. coli infections.

Based in La Jolla, CA, the Institute for Allergy & Immunology is located in UC San Diego’s Science Research Park and is a world-class biomedical research institute covering 145,000 square feet.  It is known for it molecular and cellular biology research.

With a Ph.D. from the California Institute of Technology, Kronenberg is most highly cited immunologists in the world.  In addition to serving as chairman and CEO, he is also the La Jolla Institute’s chief scientist.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta says E. coli is among 31 known pathogens causing one out six Americans to become ill annually in the United States.

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