Scientists have just come up with a new way to render bacteria such as anthrax harmless in the body. Since 2001, you might have seen a lot of coverage on this toxin in the news. However, many of us still don’t fully understand the disease — other than the fact that it has been used as a biological weapon.
So, here’s the lowdown: The culprit behind anthrax is a bacterium called “Bacillus anthracis,” which can give off spores, helping it spread more easily. There are three types of this dangerous disease that target the following parts of the human body: skin, lung, and digestive system. You’ll be happy to know that incidences of anthrax are quite rare.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, it hasn’t seen a case of anthrax spreading from person to person, like the flu bug would. Instead, most people who get this disease come into contact with it through infected animal products, such as wool or meat that hasn’t been cooked properly.
As we all know, in 2001, there was a case in the U.S. where someone deliberately infected others through letters containing anthrax-laced powder. There’s no reason to become paranoid about this happening again, as the government has been putting protective and preventive measures in place to prevent the spread of diseases such as anthrax.
Nevertheless, anthrax is a serious disease, so many medical experts are constantly looking for better ways to prevent or treat it. However, this latest protection method includes a much greater scope than just dealing with anthrax.
New molecules developed by scientists from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York and the University of Toronto, Canada, have shown success in protecting rats from the anthrax toxin. Based on special statistical analysis, these molecules were constructed on a nanoscale (that is, a very, very tiny level). Each consists of a “liposome” (a large molecule), which is fitted with lots of “peptides” (or tiny molecules).
How do these molecules work? Well, it’s complicated, but basically the liposome will attach itself to the anthrax molecule with its many little peptide fingers and toes, thus effectively blocking the areas on the anthrax molecule that are needed in order for it to wreak havoc.
In other words, it renders the anthrax toxin harmless. Because of the special way they are designed and constructed, the anthrax-fighting molecules are able to maintain a strong grip on the bacteria, preventing it from causing disease.
The effectiveness of this method was shown in the study. The researchers infected 18 rats with anthrax bacteria, but only nine of them received the special peptide treatment. Eight out of nine rats that didn’t get the treatment died, while eight out of the nine rats that did get the treatment survived. Those are good odds!
The most important thing about this study is not necessarily that there’s a new way to prevent and/or treat anthrax — although that’s certainly great news. It’s that there could now be an innovative and seemingly very effective way to inhibit other viruses and toxins, such as cholera and HIV, from wreaking havoc in the human body. Let’s hope we hear more from this research team in the near future.