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article imageAncient diseases provide new insights into today’s pathogens

By Tim Sandle     Sep 25, 2014 in Science
Humans have lived with deadly epidemics since they formed the first communities. Researchers study ancient scourges, such as the bubonic plague, in order to understand how the body responds to infections. Such insights can inform about modern infections.
Some new research into ancient diseases has been published by Duke Medicine and Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School Singapore. The research looks at how the plague causing bacterium Yersinia pestis is able to hitchhike on immune cells in the lymph nodes and eventually progress into the lungs and the blood stream. Once in the lungs, the bacterium can be readily transmitted to others.
With the immune cell part of the process, the researchers have found that bacteria enter the draining lymph node and hide undetected in immune cells. This provides a place for bacteria to multiply undetected.
The researchers hope that by understanding this mechanism, they can explore a new avenue to develop therapies that block this host immune function. This would be an alternative to most modern types of therapy, which aim to target the actual pathogens. By not targeting the bacteria, such an approach would avoid the conundrum of antibiotic resistance. Such an approach might even inform about current outbreaks, such as Ebola.
Furthermore, bubonic plague (colloquially known as “The Black Death”) has never really gone away and there have been recent outbreaks in India, Madagascar and the Congo. Indeed, as this writer has previously written:
“Populations are still at risk of plague today. This is due to several reasons including transport and trade, and threats in developing countries where multi-drug resistant pathogens are currently emerging and spreading rapidly. These global problems would require responses at various intersecting levels of public health and political authority: global, national, and local”
The findings have been published in the journal Immunity. The research is headed “Trafficking of Intracellular Yersinia pestis through Lymph Nodes Establishes Buboes and Systemic Infection”.
More about Pathogens, Disease, Ebola, Plague
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