By Alexa Lardieri, Deputy US Health Editor, Dailymail.Com and Luke Andrews for Dailymail.Com
5:37 p.m. October 31, 2023, updated October 31, 2023 at 8:05 p.m.
Artificial intelligence (AI) could pave the way for a gonorrhea vaccine, researchers say.
The sexually transmitted disease is causing concern among doctors because it is resistant to almost all antibiotics, with experts fearing that if a super-strain takes hold in the United States, they could find themselves unable to treat it.
But researchers in Massachusetts and Denmark say they used AI technology similar to facial recognition to detect two gonorrhea antigens that could be used to develop a vaccine to protect against STDs.
“It was definitely a surprise,” said author Sanjay Ram, an infectious disease expert at UMass Memorial Medical Center.
“No one would have predicted that these two proteins, which were thought not to be surface exposed, would work in vaccines.”
In the study, published Tuesday in the journal mBio, scientists fed AI data on gonorrhea proteins.
The AI, called Efficacy Discriminative Educated Network (EDEN), uses functionality similar to facial recognition technology to understand the difference between proteins, said Andreas Holm Mattson, founder of AI immunology startup Evaxian.
The technology analyzed different combinations of gonorrhea surface proteins to suggest the best vaccine formula.
The scientists then immunized mice with one of 11 combinations of two to three antigens recommended by the AI.
The mice received three doses spaced three weeks between each dose.
Two to three weeks after the final dose, the mice’s blood was then collected and exposed to the bacteria.
The scientists measured the immune response and found that the mice were immunized with the proteins FtsN and NGO0265 had the strongest immune response.
FtsN is involved in gonorrhea cell division. Scientists are unsure of the role of NGO0265, but say it is also present on the surface of gonorrhea cells.
The researchers then combined the two proteins into a chimeric protein – a protein created by joining two genes – which induced a similar immune response.
The scientists said they are now considering a phase 1 clinical trial of their vaccine to ensure it is safe for use in humans. Any vaccine based on this research will be available years from now, they said.
About 700,000 Americans contract gonorrhea each year, statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest.
Gonorrhea infections reached record levels in the 1970s and 1980s, with about 400 cases per 100,000 people at their peak.
But with the advent of technologies such as condoms, increased awareness of STDs and infection control programs, annual infections have fallen 74 percent since 1996.
However, in recent years, infections have started to increase again, due to factors such as more sexual partners, less frequent use of condoms, lack of testing and the emergence of antibiotic resistance. .
People can only become infected with gonorrhea during vaginal, anal, or oral sex when the bacteria is transmitted in the bodily fluids of an infected person.
Warning signs of infection include pain when urinating, abnormal discharge from the penis or anus, and redness or swelling of the urethra or vagina.
Infections are treated with a course of antibiotics. But in recent years, with the emergence of antibiotic resistance, doctors have begun warning that an alternative is needed.
If left untreated, long-term gonorrhea infections can increase the risk of complications during pregnancy, such as low birth weight, as well as the risk of contracting other STIs like HIV by making penetration easier. of the virus in the bloodstream.
In some cases, infections can lead to infertility in men by forming scar tissue in the urethra, which can reduce the number of sperm leaving the body during ejaculation.
In women, the bacteria can travel through the cervix to the upper reproductive organs, causing inflammation and scarring that can affect fertility.
Earlier this year in Boston, two people were diagnosed with a “concerning” strain of super gonorrhea.
There was no connection between the two, suggesting that the super strain is circulating more widely in the community.
Dr. Margaret Cooke, head of the Massachusetts Department of Health, said the finding posed a “serious public health concern.”
In addition to Boston, the strain has already been diagnosed in the United Kingdom and Austria.