Raw and undercooked poultry and meat, raw milk and untreated water are sources for Campylobacter, the most common bacterial cause of diarrhea in the United States, according the U.S. Public Health Service.
But finding how these bacteria that happily co-exist with chickens and turkeys burrow their way into intestinal cells to eat and make people sick in the process should provide direction on how to stop them, say Drs. Stuart A. Thompson and Christopher M. Burns.
"The basic problem with Campylobacter is that we don't know how it causes disease," says Dr. Thompson, who recently received his third National Institutes of Health grant to answer this question and develop a vaccine. "To understand how to treat a bacterium, you have to understand how it causes disease."
He and Dr. Burns, co-principal investigator on the latest grant, are learning that the mindless microorganism is an incredibly skilled survivor.
"What we are working on is one of the basic mechanisms of any bacterial disease: that bacteria regulate their own genes in order to cause whatever disease process they cause," says Dr. Thompson. "Bacteria exploit their hosts to live." And the human body is ripe for picking. "Think about it, inside human cells are tons of goodies, all kinds of sugars and other elements. If bacteria can get there, cause the cells and tissue to become inflamed, cells starts releasing all these nutrients and the bacteria have things to eat. In fact, bacteria don't want to kill a host because then they run out of nutrients."
All this exploitation requires being responsive to the environment. "Organisms can sense where they are in people and respond by changing their gene expression so they are making the right proteins for the envir
Contact: Toni Baker
Medical College of Georgia