IOWA CITY — Researchers at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine have made a breakthrough that they said could save thousands of lives.
Dr. Patrick Schlievert, professor of microbiology, said the researchers have discovered what causes endocarditis, a bacterial infection of the heart valves, to turn deadly.
Dr. Schlievert said antigens, or toxins, produced by the staph bacteria that causes endocarditis, stop the body’s immune system from functioning correctly, allowing the infection to spread.
“They block or they mess with the immune system function. The immune system can’t function,” Schlievert said.
“By blocking the ability of the immune system to clear it, the staph can continue to grow, and it grows until pieces break off and they lodge in the lungs, or the brain, or the kidneys,” Schlievert added.
Schlievert said infective endocarditis affects about 40,000 Americans every year, and about 20,000 die from heart failure. Of the 20,000 survivors, about half will suffer from strokes, many of them deadly.
But Schlievert said early treatment with antibodies can stop the antigens and their deadly effects.
“There are antibodies that are commercially available, that allows us to neutralize that family of toxins.”
He said he expects this treatment to become more widely practiced by doctors in the next year or so.
“I think we should be able to nearly completely eliminate the development of strokes,” he said.