Sweet success on the way to vaccine for ulcers, stomach cancer, reported in Science

This news release is also available in French and Swedish.

A spoonful of sugar may help the medicine go down, but for the 50 percent of the global population whose stomachs contain the Helicobacter pylori bacteria, other sugars have less sweet implications. Certain sugars in the body, meant to help the immune system fight the infection (which can lead to ulcers and stomach cancer), actually make the infection worse, according to a report in the journal Science, published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

These findings, by a team of Swedish, Estonian, French, and U.S. researchers, help explain why H. pylori is such a tenacious, virulent bug, and provide new prospects for making a vaccine against it.

There are many different strains of H. pylori, some more harmful than others. They cause virtually all ulcers (spicy food and stress do not) and have been linked to stomach cancer, one of the five most common types of cancer in the world, according to the World Health Organization.

H. pylori infections are far more common in the developing world than they are in North America and Europe, said study author Thomas Born of Ume University, in Ume, Sweden. He noted that, while ulcers can be treated with antibiotics, using this type of treatment globally would likely lead to the emergence of drug resistant bacterial strains.

"I think the real therapeutic strategy would be a vaccine," Born said.

During an H. pylori infection, when the bacteria are burrowing into the mucus membrane lining the stomach, the membrane cells display certain sugar molecules on their surfaces. The sugars help usher immune cells into the damaged tissue, but they have an unintended consequence as well, Born a

Contact: Lisa Onaga
American Association for the Advancement of Science

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