Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Spiralling Away

Vaccine against Leptospira bacteria – causing Weil's disease – which can infect humans and animals

10 March 2021

Spiralling Away

As coronavirus vaccination campaigns progress, scientists are also working on vaccines for other serious diseases, including leptospirosis. Responsible for around a million deaths annually worldwide, leptospirosis is caused by Leptospira bacteria (pictured), primarily transmitted through the urine of their many mammal hosts, especially rodents in urban slums. Tackling this disease is challenging, as the Leptospira genus is extremely diverse, with 64 species, 17 causing serious symptoms in humans, and over 300 variants, or serovars. In a potential breakthrough, researchers developed a live-attenuated vaccine based on altered Leptospira, rendered harmless by a mutation in FcpA, a protein in the bacteria’s flagellum, essential for it to move. In mice and hamsters, immunisation conferred protection against several Leptospira species, and prevented them from colonising the kidneys, thereby blocking onwards transmission through urine. More research is needed to test safety and efficacy in humans, but these encouraging signs raise hopes of finding a solution.

Written by Emmanuelle Briolat

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