Top: UTSA postdoctoral fellow Ashlesh Murthy (left) with Professor Bernard
Arulanandam. Bottom: Murthy in the lab.
(Photo by Jason Brown)

UTSA, UTHSCSA collaborate on vaccine research

By Kris Rodriguez
UTSA Public Affairs Specialist

and Will Sansom
UTHSCSA Director of News and Information

(Feb. 19, 2007)--Researchers at the new UTSA South Texas Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases (STCEID) and the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSCSA) have partnered to discover a vaccine to prevent Chlamydia, the most common bacteria-related sexually transmitted disease (STD) in the United States.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), chlamydia is caused by the bacterium, chlamydia trachomatis, which can damage a woman's reproductive organs. In women, symptoms are usually mild or absent. Serious complications can cause irreversible damage including infertility before a woman recognizes a problem. In men, Chlamydia complications can cause discharge from the penis.

A CDC report indicates 930,000 cases of Chlamydia infection were reported in the United States in 2004. Annually, it is estimated that new cases have risen to more than 2.8 million.

After three years of research, Ashlesh Murthy, a UTSA post-doctoral researcher in cell and molecular biology, has found success in administering a Chlamydia prevention vaccine in mice. The next step will be to test the vaccine in larger animals, primarily guinea pigs. He will present his vaccine research findings this summer at an international conference in Japan.

"This is a very prevalent disease in women throughout the world, and the biggest problem is that most infected women never show any symptoms, so they never get treated," said Murthy. "When Chlamydia is left untreated, it can lead to severe complications including pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancies and infertility."

Murthy's research is guided by Bernard Arulanandam, UTSA associate professor of biology, who began studying Chlamydia six years ago.

"With the recent success of the human papillomavirus vaccine, developed to prevent cervical cancer in young women, I think the urgency to develop a Chlamydia prevention vaccine is on the horizon," said Arulanandam.

The UTSA researchers work with Guangming Zhong, UTHSCSA professor of microbiology, whose lab has identified antigens or proteins in Chlamydia as vaccine candidates and providing them to the UTSA researchers to analyze for their efficacy.

Arulanandam and Murthy have worked together since 2003, when Murthy enrolled in the newly established UTSA cell and molecular biology doctoral program. In May 2006, Murthy was UTSA's first recipient of a doctorate in cell and molecular biology.

Arulanandam is one of 19 STCEID faculty members. Center research focuses on critical areas of human health including anthrax, tularemia, cholera, Lyme disease, desert valley fever and other parasitic and fungal diseases.

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