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Fast-acting antidote for cholera epidemics
March 18, 2018, 12:27 pm

A fast-acting antidote for cholera epidemics could be available in the near future, say scientists at the Sahlgrenska Academy in Sweden.

“This is not about a vaccine but rather a drinkable protection that can be distributed during an ongoing cholera epidemic to reduce its spread, a drink that blocks the cholera toxin so that it doesn’t reach the intestinal mucous membrane, where all the chaos otherwise gets under way,” the researchers wrote in a recent publication on their study.

Cholera is caused by a toxin released by bacteria, cholera toxin, which binds to the intestinal wall, causing massive fluid loss through diarrhea. The binding has long been believed to be dependent on a specific receptor in the intestine, GM1. Though GM1 is indeed a very powerful receptor, unlike other receptors, there is very little of it in the human intestine. Moreover, mice that completely lack GM1 also get diarrhea after drinking water containing cholera toxin.

Researchers in the Swedish academy discovered other binding receptors that could attach to the cholera toxin but could be neutralized by specific sugar molecules present in breast milk to a great extent and therefore are safe to drink.

The researchers say the big takeaway from their study is that we have shown that it is not quite as simple as people have maintained for decades. According to the researchers, the results also offer the possibility of producing a drinkable antidote that can put both GM1 and other receptors out of play. This could complement other emergency initiatives in areas where sufficient vaccination protection is lacking.

The problem with vaccines is that they work less well in developing countries due to malnutrition and poor health, especially when it comes to small children. If it became possible to use molecules that bind effectively to the cholera toxin and thereby prevent the toxin from attaching to the intestine, it would immediately reduce the spreading in an affected area, even if people are not vaccinated or do not have sufficient protection.

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