Scientists have found evidence that genetic factors can increase the risk of a person contracting meningitis, a discovery that could help in the development of vaccines against the deadliest strain of the bacteria.
Research, led by teams in London and Singapore, involved comparing the DNA of people who had developed meningococcal meningitis with those who had never suffered a bacterial meningitis infection.
The study of the genetic codes of more than 6,000 people showed that susceptible people had alterations in their DNA around genes for “Factor H” proteins. These regulate a bacteria-fighting part of the immune system and protect the body’s cells from being damaged.
Meningococcal bacteria “hijack” Factor H and use it to get into the body without being attacked, according to the findings published in the journal Nature Genetics.
The scientists now want to find out how the genetic variants affect the activity of Factor H and Factor H-related proteins.
Professor Michael Levin, from the Department of Paediatrics at Imperial College London, who led the research, said:
“Our findings provide the strongest evidence so far that there are genetic factors that lead to people developing meningitis.”
Currently there is no vaccine for the Group B strain which claims thousands of lives around the world every year, most of them children under five and teenagers.
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