If you could be vaccinated against serious conditions via nose drops, would you take that option? Well, it could one day be a possibility. According to New Atlas, scientists from the United Kingdom recently developed a new nasal vaccine designed to protect against a severe form of bacterial meningitis called meningococcal meningitis. Through the use of engineered N. lactamica bacteria, scientists protected the bacteria causing bacterial meningitis from settling in 86% of participants. Interested in learning more? Take a look at the full findings published in Science Translational Medicine.
There are several types of bacteria which cause bacterial meningitis, a serious infection of the meninges (membranes) around the brain and spinal cord. For example, Streptococcus pneumoniae is associated with bacterial meningitis, with Neisseria meningitidis sometimes causing meningococcal meningitis. Regardless, the infection causes inflammation of the meninges, which results in a number of health issues. The bacteria can be spread through coughing or sneezing, saliva, unclean food, or even from mother to baby. Risk factors include living in large group settings, traveling to certain areas, being an infant, or having certain conditions such as HIV.
Typically, symptoms of bacterial meningitis appear within 3-7 days after exposure. Without treatment, bacterial meningitis can be fatal. If symptoms appear, it is important to see your medical practitioner immediately. Symptoms include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Confusion or other altered mental symptoms
- Severe neck stiffness
- Light sensitivity
- Sepsis (complication)
- Brain damage (complication)
- Hearing loss (complication)
Symptoms also differ between adults and infants. Infant symptoms may include:
- Poor feeding
- Abnormal reflexes
- A bulging fontanelle
Learn more about bacterial meningitis.
If N. meningitidis first enters the upper respiratory tract, and later the bloodstream, it can prompt meningococcal meningitis. However, the body does have a natural defense to this: Neisseria lactamica (N. lactamica). In this case, N. lactamica is considered to be a friendly bacteria. It is normally found within the nose of infants, children, and young adults. Even without any additional intervention, N. lactamica can sometimes stop N. meningitidis from infecting the body.
In the past, researchers created a nasally administered vaccine to protect against bacterial meningitis. By delivering N. lactamica directly to the nose via nose drops, researchers stopped infection in 60% of those treated. However, they wanted to determine whether they could create an even more effective vaccination.
To begin, scientists engineered N. lactamica to increase the amounts of a certain protein. In N. meningitidis, this same protein helps the bacteria to stick to the nasal lining, causing more effective infection rates. By coding for this same protein in N. lactamica, the so-called friendly bacteria could also stick to the nasal lining, thus preventing N. meningitidis infection. In a study evaluating this process, the vaccine prevented bacterial meningitis infection in 86% of patients who carried the N. meningitidis bacteria for 90 days (3 months). Outside of improving immune response, the vaccine was also safe and well-tolerated. No adverse reactions occurred.
As a result, researchers hope that N. lactamica could provide an effective treatment and prevention option moving forward.