University of Victoria microbiologist Caroline Cameron has been awarded a patent for a potential vaccine candidate against syphilis.
While the bacterial disease dates back to at least 1495 and is treatable with antibiotics, its highly infectious nature makes it an enduring health issue. Worldwide, there are an estimated 11 million cases of syphilis each year, and rates of the disease in British Columbia are at their highest in 30 years.
The disease causes increased susceptibility to HIV, and when untreated causes irreversible tissue damage.
“The pathogen that causes syphilis can pass from the bloodstream into the brain and from a pregnant woman to her fetus,” says Cameron. This makes it one of the leading causes of infectious stillbirth in low-income countries, leading to over 205,000 fetal and newborn deaths globally each year.
The protein vaccine component that has been patented aims to prevent the bacterium from entering the bloodstream.
Cameron is collaborating with researchers at the University of Washington and the Infectious Disease Research Institute with the goal of developing a vaccine composition that incorporates this patented protein component.
The World Health Organization has an ambitious target of reducing the disease by 90 per cent globally and reducing the number of babies born with syphilis to 50 or fewer cases per 100,000 live births in 80 per cent of countries by 2030.
“A vaccine would provide an effective tool against the global fight against syphilis when added to prevention, screening and treatment programs,” says Cameron. Funding for the project is provided by the US National Institutes of Health.