Scientists who have made a breakthrough in discovering how the body fights of the chlamydia infection believe that a vaccine for the very common sexually transmitted infection may only be a few years away.
The scientists from the Sahlgrenska Academy have discovered that that contrary to what was previously thought, when the body detects the infection the first white blood cells that it sends in are not the most effective.
The research team say that they discovered that the white blood cells that fight infection, T lymphocytes, trigger an inflammation when they fight bacteria. The inflammation can damage tissue so similar cells are called in for protection.
They explained that the anti-inflammatory cells overshadowed the bacteria-killing cells and so the necessary cells to fight the chlamydia inflammation were not concentrated in the lower vagina, allowing the infection to travel up to the womb and the fallopian tubes.
The scientists hope that now they understand how the body's natural defences work, they will be able to optimise them to create a vaccine.
The lead author of the study, Ellen Marks, said "Now we know how the body defends itself against the chlamydia bacteria, we can develop a vaccine that optimises that defence. We have a basic understanding of how the vaccine could work, but some work remains to be done. We believe that it will take a few years until the vaccine becomes a reality".
There is a desperate need for a chlamydia vaccine as infection rates for this infection have been steadily rising, making it the most common sexually transmitted infection in the UK. Between 2007 and 2008, those who were positive after a chlamydia test rose from 121, 791 to 123,018. The results could partly be due to an increased push for chlamydia testing, but also due its prevalence in high-risk groups, namely the 15-25 age group.
Public health trusts have been instructed to ensure at least 15% of this age group get a chlamydia test, but many are falling far sure of this target. Without a chlamydia test, it means that many of those infected are unaware of the problem, as the infection is frequently symptomless. They are therefore likely to pass it onto their sexual partners.
A potential vaccine could remove the need for regular chlamydia testing of the population, which has proved extremely hard to achieve.
Ellen Marks said that she and her team had already conducted tests on mice of a prospective vaccine and had a good idea how it would be administered. She said, "The method of administration is an important remaining issue. Previous research has shown that infections don't work, and so the vaccine would probably need to be given either as a nasal spray or in the form of a cream applied to the vagina".
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