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Research shines positive light on harmful bacteria

April 21, 2017

Researchers at the Biocomplexity Institute of Virginia Tech are exploring why H. pylori bacteria are harmful to some people, while providing health benefits to others.
Researchers at the Biocomplexity Institute of Virginia Tech are exploring why H. pylori bacteria are harmful to some people, while providing health benefits to others.

Helicobacter pylori, a bacterium known on the world stage for its ties to gastric cancer, may have health benefits for the human immune system, potentially opening doors to new treatments for gastrointestinal (GI) infections.

In a new study published in the Journal of Immunology, researchers at the Biocomplexity Institute of Virginia Tech’s Nutritional Immunology and Molecular Medicine Laboratory (NIMML) unveiled a new mechanism by which H. pylori and the immune system cooperate to minimize destructive immune responses.

The newly described mechanism involving gastric immunoregulatory mononuclear phagocytes brings an improved understanding of the complex and dynamic interactions between H. pylori and its human host. This is the first step toward predicting outcomes of H. pylori infection at the individual, personalized level.

H. pylori is the leading cause of gastroduodenal ulcer and gastric cancer. Due to the emergence of antibiotic-resistant strains, the World Health Organization  has recently classified H. pylori in group 2 high-priority bacteria for which new treatments are urgently needed.

However, most people carrying this bacterium remain healthy. Recent studies have shown an inverse correlation between H. pylori in the stomach and such chronic morbidities like obesity, childhood asthma, and allergies, leading researchers to believe this bacterium exerts beneficial effects.  

“Being colonized by H. pylori is not necessarily detrimental to the host. The new mechanism of cooperation reported might be implicated in protection against asthma, allergies and immune-mediated diseases that has been associated with a carrier state,” said Raquel Hontecillas, associate professor of immunology, NIMML co-director, and corresponding author of the publication.

NIMML researchers employ advanced computational tools in combination with experimental and clinical studies to capture variation and diversity of immune responses, and develop safer, more-effective precision medicine treatments for infectious and immune-mediated diseases. This iterative process ultimately yields major savings in both time and laboratory costs.

“The computational models and advanced data analytics platforms developed by NIMML have consistently predicted unforeseen mechanisms of host-pathogen interaction with more than 90 percent accuracy,” said Josep Bassaganya-Riera, professor of immunology and NIMML director. “Discovering this mechanism of cooperation between H. pylori and its host has profound implications for the development of personalized treatments for infectious and immune-mediated diseases.”

The newly reported mechanism of cooperation defines an accelerated path to new personalized treatments for GI infections.

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