New non-antibiotic treatment discovered for world’s most common STI

6 Feb 2019

Image: © Kateryna_Kon/

With antibiotic resistance on the rise, the discovery of a new treatment for chlamydia based on gene therapy could be a serious game-changer.

According to the HSE, chlamydia was the most diagnosed sexually transmitted infection (STI) in 2017, with it accounting for more than half of all STI cases in Ireland. In most cases both women and men will experience no symptoms, but its long-term effects could increase the risk of infertility in women.

While the typical treatment involves a course of antibiotics, doctors fear that this could soon become increasingly difficult due to the rise of global antibiotic resistance. So, it will come as welcome news that a team from the University of Waterloo in Canada has announced the development of a new treatment for chlamydia that does away with antibiotics altogether.

Publishing their findings in Scientific Reports, the researchers said the treatment is a type of gene therapy delivered via nanotechnology and has so far reported a 65pc success rate in preventing chlamydia infection with a single dose.

The new treatment targets chlamydia infection by preventing the majority of bacteria entering cells in the genital tract and destroying any bacteria that is able to penetrate a cell wall. This was achieved using a small interfering ribonucleic acid (siRNA) to target a specific gene called PDGFR-beta in the female reproductive tract, creating a protein that binds to chlamydia bacteria.

Advanced nanotech

“By targeting PDGFR-beta, we’re able to stop the creation of the protein that chlamydia will use to enter genital tract skin cells,” said Emmanuel Ho of the research team. “As a result, an incoming infection has fewer targets to latch on to and infection is less likely to occur.”

If chlamydia cells do manage to get through and bind to cells, the nanotech is designed to activate autophagy, the cellular process where infected skin cells form a bubble around the bacteria and destroy it. As the siRNA alone can’t enter skin cells to prevent chlamydia binding, the gene therapy requires a unique nanoparticle.

“As antibiotic resistance continues to develop, people may experience chlamydia infections that cannot be treated through conventional means, which is causing increasing public health challenges,” Ho said.

“As the Food and Drug Administration in the US has recently approved the first siRNA-based drug for market, we’re hopeful this kind of research will be able to be widely available in the future.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic