A Vaccination Breakthrough for Urinary Tract Infections

Rebecca Moragne, TuftScope Research-Highlights Editor

Many women are familiar with the painful and persistent urination symptoms and abdominal and back pain of a urinary tract infection (UTI). In a woman’s lifetime, she has about a 50% chance of acquiring a UTI. This infection initiates in the bladder and if not followed by prompt antibiotics, spreads to the kidney and bloodstream. However, these severe infections may become obsolete due to research from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. 

Eight of every ten UTIs are caused by the bacteria Escheria coli (E. coli). E. coli can attach to the bladder with pili, long projections. Researchers at the university recently developed a vaccine for chronic and recurrent UTIs due to characteristics of pili. In E. coli, there are two types of pili: type 1 and Fml. The vaccine targets the protein FmlH, which is in Fml pili. The FmlH sits on the tip of a pilus and assists the bacteria to attach to the bladder wall. Matthew Conover, PhD, a researcher from the lab at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, stated “We found that the Fml pilus plays little to no role in acute bladder infection, but after the establishment of infection and the onset of inflammation, it contributes to the persistence of bacteria in the bladder.” When the researchers separated the FmlH from E. coli and infected the urinary tract of mice with bacteria with and without the FmlH gene, the mice without FmlH had 1,000 times less bacteria in their bladder and 100 times less bacteria in their kidney than the mice containing the gene.

After the results from the different E. coli, the researchers developed a vaccine with pieces of the FmlH protein. One group of mice received the vaccine while a second group remained as a control without the vaccine. Subsequently, both groups were infected with E. coli in their urinary tracts. After three days the vaccinated mice contained 1,000 times less bacteria in their bladder and 100 times less bacteria in their kidneys than the unvaccinated mice. Scott Hultgren, PhD, a professor of molecular biology and one of the study’s senior authors noted that, “this [result] is proof of concept that we can interfere with the ability of the bacteria to adhere to the bladder and reduce chronic bladder infection and spread to other parts of the body.” Further steps will now be taken to explore the vaccine’s potential towards human application. Vaccination for UTIs may increasingly become necessary as multidrug resistant infections are appearing and implementation of this research in humans may be required in the near future. 


Washington University in St. Louis. (2016, September 22). Researchers identify protein critical in causing chronic UTIs. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 30, 2016 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/09/160922124312.htm