Apr 21, 2019 | Updated: 07:32 PM EDT

Gene therapy: utilizing nanotechnology in fighting against Chlamydia

Feb 12, 2019 08:46 AM EST

(Photo : NIAID) An antibody against the small cell variant (SCV) of Chlamydia burnetii distinguishes SCV in a mixed population also containing the large cell variant (LCV). Credit: NIAID

Scientists in Canada have developed a new method for preventing and treating chlamydia. Chlamydia, caused by Chlamydia trachomatis, is a common sexually transmitted disease that can infect women with cervicitis and in both men and women with urethritis and proctitis. The team of researchers from the University of Waterloo treats chlamydia through gene therapy using nanotechnology. 

Professor Emmanuel Ho, the lead researcher from the said university's School of Pharmacy, reports that chlamydia is prevented from fastening on and infecting a gene in the cell by being knocked down by the treatment. The gene therapy directs the cell to activate a process "which basically puts a little bubble around the chlamydia and then destroys it."

The gene therapy is activated through a unique nanoparticle that has the ability to enter the cells. The treatment is non-invasive as it is applied to the genitals as a cream or as a topical gel.

Prevalence of chlamydia 

Chlamydia is the most frequently reported bacterial sexually transmitted infection in both Canada and the United States. CDC records 1,708,569 cases of chlamydia were reported to CDC from 50 states and the District of Columbia in 1917. There is an estimated 2.86 million infections occur annually. 

Canada has 116,499 cases of chlamydia in 2015 and there is a steady rate of increase since 1997. 

Antibiotics are the conventional manner in treating chlamydia. However, there is a possibility that chlamydia will become drug-resistant to antibiotics, according to Ho. 

Ho further emphasized that "We're trying to develop, in advance, an antibiotic alternative. When chlamydia or other types of infections are truly 100 percent ineffective because of antibiotics, then we have a second line of defense."

Early stages in the research

There is a 65 percent success in preventing chlamydia using just a single dose of the treatment, according to Ho. The team is assessing how animals respond to the treatment. After which, the team will proceed to human clinical trials. The current cost of the treatment is higher than antibiotics however, It is hoped that the price will go down after mass production. 

"We are still in the early stages but we're very hopeful," Ho said of the treatment eventually going to market. Ho says that there is a possibility of it being used to treat other sexually transmitted infections. "For our study, we just used chlamydia as more of a model sexually transmitted infection, but this could technically be used for other sexually transmitted infections, for example, gonorrhea," he said. "I believe it can be applied to other infections as well."

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