Press releases from 21.02.2012
Early detection and prevention of pandemics – Project start for „ANTIGONE“
Insel Riems, 21 February 2012. In the frame of a research network for rapid detection and improved control of infectious agents which have the potential to become a threat to human health the Friedrich-Loeffler-Institut, Federal Research Institute for Animal Health (FLI), Jena has started research on the intestinal bacterium EHEC O104:H4 which newly emerged last year, on the causative agent of Q fever Coxiella burnetii, and the causative agent of plague Yersinia pestis. These projects are part of the international research network „ANTIGONE“ (ANTIcipating the Global Onset of Novel Epidemics) supported by the EU with 12 million Euros from the EU research framework programme. ANTIGONE consists of 14 partners from 7 countries. Different projects focus on viruses and bacterial agents which might cause new epidemics. Other pathogens investigated in the frame of this project are lyssaviruses, the SARS coronavirus, the Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever virus, the Nipah and the Ebola virus, Mycobacterium bovis, Borrelia burgdorferi and Streptococcus suis.
Zoonotic agents first have to cross the species barrier between animals and humans and then be transmitted efficiently between humans to cause an epidemic or even pandemic. Over the past years, an increasing number of viruses or bacteria have managed to cross this species barrier. „Emerging zoonoses“, i.e. infectious diseases which can be transmitted from animals to humans, have spread rapidly and caused cases of disease, sometimes with fatal outcome. Currently, there is no possibility to predict the potential of a pathogen to spread at an explosive rate within the human population. The more knowledge we have on the necessary mechanisms and factors, the better are our chances to find an approach to prevent such a transmission.
Prof. Christian Menge (Institute of Molecular Pathogenesis) and Prof. Helge Karch (Institute of Hygiene, University of Münster) will investigate which factors made EHEC O104:H4 so dangerous for humans. While other EHEC strains settle in the intestinal tract of animals as harmless commensals, EHEC O104:H4 with its particular combination of gene sections derived from different groups of pathogenic E. coli so far have only been detected in the digestive tract of humans. To understand the development of EHEC O104:H4, the presence of similar pathogens in wildlife and domestic animals in Germany, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Spain, and Vietnam will now be investigated. It will also be investigated whether EHEC O104:H4 is able to subsist in the intestinal tract of ruminants.
Coxiella burnetii, the causative agent of Q fever, which can be excreted in large numbers by sheep and goats, caused a large epidemic in humans in the Netherlands from 2007 to 2010. Scientists of the FLI will establish the basis for understanding pathogen excretion in ruminants on the animal and on the herd level. For this purpose, the route of the pathogen will be investigated quantitatively and qualitatively at the portal of entry, the lung epithelium, the portal of exit, and the epithelia of the placenta, intestine, and udder. Ultimately, it is intended to derive biomarkers in order to assess the epidemic potential of different pathogen strains.
Yersinia pestis, the causative agent of plague, has caused three devastating pandemics during the past 1500 years. The “Black Death” took the lives of millions of people and changed the course not only of European history dramatically. In spite of intensive research, many questions on the life cycle (animal reservoir – vector – humans) and on the transmission of the bacterium between humans remain unanswered. The work group of Prof. Heinrich Neubauer (Institute of bacterial Infections and Zoonoses) will investigate which factors enable the bacterium to replicate rapidly under difficult conditions such as a lack of oxygen in the inflammatory tissue of the host and what are the differences compared to closely related species and harmless vaccines.
Dipl.-Biol. Elke Reinking (Press Officer)
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