New patch could stop traveler's diarrhea

June 22, 2009 2:44:20 PM PDT
It's a problem that can ruin any family vacation. A lot of times a trip overseas can leave people stuck in the bathroom with stomach problems instead of out enjoying the sun. Now, two well known Houston scientists are changing that.

In a laboratory at the UT Institute of Molecular Medicine, Dr. Ferid Murad is working on a solution to a worldwide problem.

"It's probably in underdeveloped countries the major cause of mortality," he told us. "More so than cancer and heart disease."

He's talking about diarrhea. An estimated two million people worldwide die of it every year. Now this Nobel Laureate and his team of scientists have developed a compound that could change those startling statistics. The drug attacks the cause of diarrhea rather than its symptoms.

"It will basically block all of the bacterial toxin-induced diarrheal diseases [like] cholera, E. coli, perhaps others," Dr. Murad said.

It does it by stopping the flow of fluids into the intestine stopping diarrhea in its tracks.

"It could help millions and millions of people," the doctor said. "That's big."

Meantime, another UT scientist is tackling a similar problem, traveler's diarrhea. He's developing a patch that targets the E. coli bacteria that causes the illness.

"Antibodies are developed against that toxin which now protects me against that infection," said Dr. Herbert DuPont with the UT School of Public Health.

Dr. Dupont says in studies, the vaccine prevented most of the moderate to severe diarrhea cases. In mild cases, it wasn't as effective. The patch can be easily applied to any skin surface.

"I think it is one of the real advances in travel medicine," he said.

Dr. Dupont hopes the vaccine patch will be available for widespread use in about three years.

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