Newly discovered protein can combat flesh-eating bacteria

Indian-origin researcher Mathur, from the ANU John Curtin School of Medical Research (JCSMR), is part of the path-breaking study

Researchers of the Australian National University (ANU), including Dr Anukriti Mathur, have discovered a protein inside the immune system that could be used as a "weapon" against the bacteria (Clostridium perfringens) responsible for causing a deadly flesh-eating disease.

According to the ANU press statement, "The Clostridium perfringens bacteria is a common cause of food poisoning. But in severe cases, it’s responsible for causing deadly infections, including gangrene."

Mathur, from the ANU John Curtin School of Medical Research (JCSMR), revealed that the bacteria produce two toxins which attack the body using a two-pronged approach. She said, "The first toxin punches holes into the cell surface, while the other enters the cell and damages the cell’s internal structures.”

Researchers described NLRP3’s (the protein) ability to detect these toxins using the analogy of a home security system “that also doubles up as a fire detector”.

According to the press statement, the ANU scientists used drugs to dampen the immune system’s defensive response triggered by NLRP3. The death rate of muscle necrosis caused by the bacteria remains high over 50 per cent, Mathur noted.

She said, "By understanding the role NLRP3 plays in detecting these deadly toxins and the defensive mechanisms it activates to protect the body, we can start to develop new techniques that target the protein and ‘dampen’ its overactive response

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