UK-India collaboration seeks new cholera treatment

A UK-India research partnership has won funding to tackle cholera, a disease which causes thousands of deaths around the world, and which is becoming increasingly difficult to treat.

The University of Nottingham and the National Institute for Cholera and Enteric Diseases, Kolkata have won a grant from the UK-India Education and Research Initiative (UKIERI) to use viruses which infect bacteria (bacteriophages) to control the highly infectious disease.

This disease remains a major public health risk in India and parts of Africa and Central America.

It is believed that around 60 per cent of Vibrio cholerae bacteria isolated from cholera sufferers are resistant to tetracycline, an antibiotic often used to treat the disease. That figure is likely to increase and the research will look into alternative treatments for the acute intestinal infection.

Cholera is caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae, and it may be the most rapidly fatal infectious disease that we know. It is caused by ingesting food or water that has been contaminated by the bacterium. A person can be entirely well and then be infected and die from choleric diarrhoea if proper treatment is unavailable.

Professor Paul Barrow and Dr Robert Atterbury, from The University of Nottingham’s School of Veterinary Medicine and Science, and Dr BL Sarkar, from the World Health Organisation-recognised National Institute for Cholera and Enteric Diseases, will work jointly on the collaborative research study.

Both institutions are able to share and benefit from each other’s knowledge, developing training in different techniques, with Nottingham’s expertise in molecular genetics and Dr Sarkar’s knowledge of the microbiology, epidemiology and control of cholera in endemic areas.

Starting in June 2014, the project aims to use bacteriophages to control cholera infections in humans. The main aims are to:

·         Isolate and characterise bacteriophages from both the countries that is able to infect a broad range of epidemiologically significant strains of Vibrio cholerae.

·         Develop treatments using these phages to reduce the burden of antibiotic resistant cholera bacteria in India and other endemic countries.

Speaking at the launch of the collaborative programme at the School of Veterinary Medicine and Science, Professor Barrow said: “This study is timely, as multi drug-resistant bugs have become a major global threat to health and there is a clear need to focus on a low-cost, biological alternative to antibiotics.

“By working with the National Institute for Cholera and Enteric Diseases, we look forward to learning from each other and developing long-term collaborative expertise in these areas.”

Dr Sarkar added: “This is a prestigious collaboration and after working on cholera for decades, I am excited that there is a possibility for a further research study in this area.

“This has the potential to benefit the health of people across the globe, particularly in Asia and Africa. I am hopeful by the end of study that we can find a ‘phage therapy’ as an alternative of the antibiotic for the treatment of cholera disease.”

The initial project will last for two years, with both institutions hoping to collaborate further.

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