The new work, funded by the Defense Department’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency Medical Diagnostics Program, is described in the Jan. 21 issue of the journal PLoS ONE.
BoNTs are made by specific strains of the bacterium Clostridium, which are widely distributed in soils and aquatic sediments. Most cases of botulism are the result of improperly stored foods, which can encourage growth of Clostridia and production of toxin, which is then ingested. BoNTs are extremely potent and target the nervous system, resulting in paralysis that can be so severe as to require life support on a mechanical ventilator for weeks to months. Countermeasures to prevent and treat botulism, such as vaccines and therapeutics, are extremely limited. Consequently, the ability to detect these toxins in the environment is critically important.
“We not only aim to use the antibodies in BoNT detection tests, but also to understand how they bind and inhibit these fascinating molecules,” Hayhurst said. “We are also striving to improve our test by making it more sensitive such that one day it may be able to detect much smaller amount of toxins found in patients’ blood. Since BoNT also have therapeutic applications with carefully controlled preparations and dosing regimens, there is also an increasing need to monitor BoNT levels in these treatments.”
In the new study, a llama was immunized with harmless versions of seven types of BoNT, blood taken to provide antibody producing cells. Using bioengineering techniques, the antibody genes were cloned and the resulting antibodies were tested for their ability to detect BoNT in a selection of drinks, including milk. Hayhurst and his team are continuing to study the molecular interactions of the llama antibodies to find out why they are so specific and why some of them inhibit toxins. The laboratory capabilities of SFBR enabled this research to be performed according to all applicable federal guidelines of biosafety and biosecurity under the CDC Select Agent Program.
SFBR is one of the world's leading independent biomedical research institutions dedicated to advancing health worldwide through innovative biomedical research. Located on a 200-acre campus on the northwest side of San Antonio, Texas, SFBR partners with hundreds of researchers and institutions around the world, targeting advances in the fight against bioterror, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer, psychiatric disorders, problems of pregnancy, AIDS, hepatitis, malaria, parasitic infections and a host of other infectious diseases.
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