New research published in PLoS ONE has used data from the Meningitis Research Foundation (MRF) Meningococcus Genome Library to develop a new test designed to type meningococcal bacteria. This is important for scientists and doctors to be able to see which types of bacteria are causing disease and ultimately to find better ways to prevent cases.
The research, led by a team at Public Health England in Manchester, describes the new test as being able to group meningococcal bacteria according to the type of factor H-binding protein (fHbp) they have.
This new test will allow researchers and scientists to see how different fHbp variants are distributed among cases of meningitis and/or septicaemia, and therefore help estimate how much coverage different vaccines might give, including a meningococcal group B vaccine that was recently licensed in January 2013.
The MRF Meningococcus Genome Library was instrumental in the development of the test, by providing a database of DNA sequences from live meningococcal bacteria that caused disease in the UK between July 2010 and June 2013. The research team were able to use the fHbp parts of the DNA sequences to design a test able to detect and characterise fHbp in samples in which bateria are no longer alive, representing approximately half of all cases. Despite the absence of live bacteria, these samples contain small amounts of bacterial DNA that this exquisitely sensitive test is able to detect and characterise.
Professor Ray Borrow at Public Health England in Manchester, part of the team behind this work said, "The test will be particularly useful for typing bacteria in patient samples where only a fragment of the DNA sequence is present. These are known as non-culture samples because only fragments of the bacteria are present and so it can't be grown up in the laboratory. These currently make up about 50% of samples taken from patients and at the moment we have no way of finding out what type of fHbp the bacteria have."
Chris Head, Chief Executive of Meningitis Research Foundation said "It is great to see that the MRF Meningococcus Genome Library is already resulting in this kind of advance for meningitis and septicaemia. The Library was initially funded as an online, open-access tool for researchers to contribute to and use for their own research so we are looking forward to seeing more research like this coming out in the future."