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Artificial protein seems to bolster immune system against infections

By Melissa Healy Los Angeles Times

A new technique has shown remarkable promise in mice infected with deadly forms of meningitis and pneumonia, and may point the way to regaining the upper hand against a wide range of infections.

A genetically re-engineered version of an immune system protein called properdin appears to activate a robust immune response against invading pathogens, according to a study published Monday in the journal PNAS.

When mice got a low dose of the recombinant protein and then, six hours later, were infected with the bacterium N. meningitidis, only 10 percent of them developed sepsis and showed evidence that the bacterium had gained a foothold in their bloodstream. In contrast, 16 hours after having been infected, 100 percent of the mice that had received a placebo injection became fatally ill.

In studies leading to the current research, purified forms of properdin also looked as if it would enhance an immune response to other microbial invaders, such as E. coli and the gonorrhea bacterium. That suggests the strategy of enhancing the immune system might someday take up the slack where antibiotics fall short, losing their potency as pathogens evolve.

Worldwide, pneumonia kills as many as 1.2 million people a year. Invasive meningococcal infections claim the lives of another 135,000 annually, and leave many times that number with long-term disabilities and illness.

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