NEW STUDY: Defense Researchers Seek Genetic Makeup of Chlamydia

The Maurelli Lab studies the molecular genetics of bacterial pathogenesis.

The Maurelli Lab studies the molecular genetics of bacterial pathogenesis.

Mass Communications Specialist 1st Class Petty Officer Molly A. Burgess works in the Defense Media Activity’s Emerging Media Directorate.

A new five-year program project in the battle against the number one leading sexually transmitted disease, Chlamydia, has begun at the Uniformed Services University (USU) of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md.

After recently receiving a $12.2 million grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) of the National Institutes of Health, USU has partnered up with various other universities such as the University of Maryland and the University of Arkansas, making it a multi-institutional project.

“This particular grant brings together experts in the field who may be at different institutions but have different skills that they can bring together to focus on a particular project,” said Dr. Anthony Maurelli, Ph.D., Department of Microbiology and Immunology of the F. Edward Hébert School of Medicine at USU, adding that the grant funded collaboration also allows them to gain access to the clinical population to begin enrolling infected people in the Baltimore area into the studies.

The project was designed to not only understand the bacterium itself for future vaccines and preventions, but to also detect and overcome future antibiotic resistance. Maurelli and his lab will focus directly on possible emerging resistance to current antibacterial treatments.

“We’re looking at the possibility that there may be strains of Chlamydia that are resistant to certain drugs and that resistance would be reflected in changes in the genome information,” Maurelli said.

In order to better understand how Chlamydia act with the other microbes normally present within its host, researchers will use an in-depth technique of decoding the bacteria’s DNA content called “genome mapping.” The normal bacteria present in the human genital tract will be identified by completely sequencing their DNA. When these genomes are mapped out, the team of experts will use this information to study how the normal bacteria influence disease caused by infection with Chlamydia.

Although a vaccine or new preventive measures that our military members can use are a long way down the road, Maurelli hopes that by the end of this project we will be closer to such results.

“In the final analysis we hope to achieve a better understanding of how Chlamydia causes disease in humans in order to come up with better ways of diagnosis and treatment and perhaps better approaches to developing vaccines against this disease,” Maurelli said.