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06/10/2013

New 'Delhi belly' vaccine shows promise, U.K. researchers say

For some western travellers, "Delhi belly" is an inconvenience, an uncomfortable malady that can cloud the memory of an otherwise perfect vacation to the developing world.

But in Asia, Africa and Latin America, "Delhi belly" -- severe diarrhea -- is far more serious.

The World Health Organization says: "Diarrhea is one of the leading causes of death among children under five globally. More than one in ten child deaths – about 800,000 each year – is due to diarrhea. Today, only 44 per cent of children with diarrhoea in low-income countries receive the recommended treatment, and limited trend data suggest that there has been little progress since 2000."

Nearly every child in the third world will have "Delhi belly" at least once in his or her lifetime. Sometimes, a child can die in a day from the affliction because of severe and rapid dehydration.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge say they have developed a new vaccine that targets both E. Coli bacteria and salmonella. The vaccine comes in pill form and also promises protection against typhoid.

"The stakes are incredibly high," researcher Krishnaa Mahbubani told the Star in an interview. "Delhi belly is quite dangerous. Several million children under the age of six come down with this. this will be a huge. This isn't just about stopping discomfort for travellers for a few weeks."

Prof. Nigel Slater, who leads a team of scientists at University of Cambridge’s department of biochemical engineering and biotechnology, said trials on mice have yielded positive results.

Human trials are set to begin later this year on a few dozen subjects. Consumers won't be able to buy the pill for at least four or five years, Slater said.

The vaccine's technology is owned by the university and Prokarium, a pharmaceutical company. The British government helped finance the research, which has been in the works for about eight years, he said.

"The trick really was getting this vaccine into tablet form," Slater said. "these bacteria in the vaccine have to pass through walls of intestine to get to lymph nodes where they create the immmunity. There's an issue of cold chain in hot countries like India.

"So we had to develop a pill form where the bacteria would be rehydrated with water, but wouldn't be killed by the bile in the stomach. It was tricky."

News of the vaccine's promise was first reported by The Telegraph.

Rick Westhead is a foreign affairs writer at the Star. He was based in India as the Star’s South Asia bureau chief from 2008 until 2011 and reports on international aid and development. Follow him on Twitter @rwesthead

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