Doctors in Southampton are leading a world-first trial of a new nose drop containing a type of modified ‘friendly’ bacteria that could help prevent meningitis and other infections.
It was developed by Professor Robert Read, director of the NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Centre and Dr Jay Laver, senior research fellow in the experimental human challenge group at the University of Southampton.
Together they have inserted a gene into a harmless form of bacteria to help it remain the nose and cause an immune response, with the first person given the drop at the NIHR Southampton Clinical Research Facility recently.
It is hoped the enhanced ‘friendly’ bacteria, known as Neisseria lactamica (Nlac), will protect against its close cousin, Neisseria meningitidis (N.meningitidis), the strain responsible for causing a severe type of meningitis.
Around 10% of adults carry N.meningitidis in the back of their nose and throat with no signs or symptoms. However, in some people it can invade the bloodstream and cause life-threatening bacterial infections including meningitis and blood poisoning, known as septicaemia.
Meningitis occurs in people of all age groups but affects mainly infants, young children and the elderly. Meningococcal meningitis, which is a bacterial form of the disease and is responsible for 1,500 cases a year in the UK, can cause death in as little as four hours from the onset of symptoms.
In a previous study, Prof Read’s team found inoculating adults with unmodified Nlac resulted in it settling harmlessly in the nose of a third of recipients and prevented them carrying N.meningitidis at the same time.
They hope genetically enhancing the bacteria with a ‘sticky’ surface protein from N.meningitidis will increase its ability to reside in the nose and generate a strong immune response that protects against the meningitis-causing bacteria.
The study is being run in collaboration with Public Health England. For information on taking part in the study, email uhs.recruitmentCRF@nhs.net or call 023 8120 3853.