Scientists develop a vaccine for UTIs

A vaccine for urinary tract infections could be on its way, according to researchers at Duke University

woman holding her stomach
(Image credit: Getty Images)

UTIs may be extremely common, but that doesn’t make them any less annoying. 

It is estimated that half of all women will suffer from a urinary tract infection at least once in their lifetime, with up to 30 percent experiencing recurrent bouts. The painful condition, which is caused by bacteria entering the urinary tract, is characterized by a stinging sensation when peeing, an increased need to empty the bladder, and cloudy or bloody urine. 

Some women adopt home remedies to treat UTIs, like gulping cranberry juice, while others seek medical intervention in the form of antibiotics. 

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However, a cure for this pesky condition could be on the horizon. A new vaccination program has been developed by scientists that could retrain the body to resist the bacteria of urinary tract infections. That’s right - you might never have to stockpile on Ocean Spray cartons again. 

“Our study describes the potential for a highly effective bladder vaccine that can not only eradicate residual bladder bacteria, but also prevent future infections,” said Somran Abraham Ph.D, a Professor of Pathology at Duke University and senior author of the groundbreaking paper. 

So how would this dreamlike vaccine work? According to the experts, it would equip the bladder with the tools to do all the work itself, erasing the need for any outside intervention.

“The new vaccine strategy attempts to ‘teach’ the bladder to more effectively fight off the attacking bacteria,” explained Jianxuan Wu, Ph.D, one of the paper’s lead authors. 

The Duke researchers demonstrated their theory in lab mice, by infecting their tiny bladders with E. coli bacteria. They noticed that while their immune systems released cells to repair the damaged tissue, they didn’t release many cells to fend off the attacker. As a result, the bacteria in the tract lingered, threatening to infect the bladder again in the future. 

The scientists believe the solution is to infections is to fortify the bladder - with a vaccine jab. The study found that mice who were ‘bladder immunized’ resisted the infecting bacteria and were even cleared of all the residual bacteria. The vaccine was administered directly into the bladder, which could indicate that its effectiveness is determined by its placement on the body. 

“We are encouraged by these findings, and since the individual components of the vaccine have previously been shown to be safe for human use, undertaking clinical studies to validate these findings could be done relatively quickly,” Abraham said.