An Iraqi scientist at Michigan State University has discovered a vaccine for Enterotoxigenic E. coli infections that could save millions of children around the world.

The vaccine, developed by Dr. Mahdi Saeed, which will likely begin human trials during 2010, is No. 36 on Discovery Magazine’s Top 100 list of stories for 2009.

SaeedMahdi.jpg“A working vaccine has the potential to save millions of lives,” Saeed says.  “This strain of E. coli has a huge impact on humanity.”

Enterotoxigenic E. coli, responsible for so-called “traveler’s diarrhea,” is blamed for the annual deaths of two to three million children in the developing world, where severe diarrheal illnesses are often fatal.

Enterotoxigenic E. coli is responsible for 60 to 70 percent of all E. coli diarrheal diseases.

Saeed says a vaccine will save untold lives.  “The implications are massive,” he says.

The breakthrough that led to the vaccine was a way to overcome the miniscule molecular size of one of the illness-inducing toxins produced by the E. coli bug.  It was too tiny to prompt the body’s immune system to react to it, meaning illnesses and usually more severe illnesses results.

Saeed came up with a biological carrier to attach to the toxin and this gets the body to induce a strong immune response.   This involved mapping the toxin’s biology and structure during the design of the vaccine.

The MSU professor was partially funded by a $510,000 grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.  Once the carrier was created in the MSU lab, Saeed’s research team tested it on mice and rabbits.

Saeed holds a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from the University of Baghdad, a Ph. D in Infectious Diseases and Master’s In Public Health from the University of Washington, and a degree in Preventive Medicine and Public Health from the American College of Veterinary Preventive Medicine.

Saeed has led the effort for establishing an emerging infectious disease program at MSU.  He developed new food safety courses and MSU’s master of food safety program.