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Leptospirosis and the Indian efforts to bring about a vaccine

leptospirosis Copyright: <a href=''>mistersunday / 123RF Stock Photo</a>
A woman walks through floodwater. Flooding season is a period of high risk for contracting leptospirosis.

Indian scientists at the Gujarat Biotechnology Research Centre (GBRC) may be fast approaching a cure for leptospirosis.

Also known as Weil’s disease, leptospirosis was responsible for over one million infections in 2015. Indian scientists working on the vaccine, however, believe almost all of these cases could have been preventable. 

Leptospirosis is typically the name given to the milder form of the disease, which involves symptoms similar to many other infectious diseases, often leading to misdiagnosis. These symptoms may include fever, headaches, muscle achiness as well as redness in the eyes.

In its more severe form, usually occurring several days following the initial symptoms, the disease is characterised as Weil’s disease. This can involve liver damage, which can cause noticeable symptoms such as jaundice. Meningitis is another possibility, as well as damage to the kidneys, heart and lungs. Due to the variety of symptoms the disease has the potential to be fatal, particularly when comorbidity occurs in people with pre-existing conditions.

Using high throughput computational tools, regions on pathogenic bacteria Leptospira were identified as potential candidates for use in vaccination. Using bioinformatic programmes the team of scientists at GBRC analysed all proteins within the bacterial genome. The results of the analysis yielded a number of peptides (sections of a protein) that were part of the outer membrane of the bacteria.

Proteins found on the outer membrane of a virus or bacteria are easily accessible to antibodies, as such they tend to elicit a strong immune response in the human body, making them ideal candidates for vaccines.

Leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease, meaning that it is spread through animals. This means the disease is more commonly found within rural environments, typically a problem for India’s agricultural communities. The disease can also be spread to humans via infected water, and is a particular risk during flooding.

“Since this disease is a major concern to farmers as well as livestock breeders, we are also involved in developing an onsite diagnostic kit for leptospirosis with support from the Department of Science and Technology,” explained Jayashankar Das, lead scientist, while speaking to India Science Wire.

The disease does however have multiple different strains, making any attempt at a vaccine difficult. The team has acknowledged this fact and has begun working on multiple different strains to identify common peptides as an antibody target. “These peptides represent a novel outcome of the study. If successful, it could become an important tool in fighting this disease worldwide,” commented Hardeep Vora, R&D Manager at Dia Sys Diagnostics India.


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