One in five cases of infertility are caused by scars due to past infections with chlamydia, but in most cases people don’t know they were ever infected.
Researchers at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) have discovered that a specific set of our genes switch on within half an hour of infection, which could lead to new treatments.
“We’re much closer to finding new biomarkers for detecting asymptomatic infections as well as new treatment targets,” says Associate Professor Garry Myers, from the UTS ithree institute.
Chlamydial infections are the most common sexually transmitted disease that, if left untreated, can lead to infertility in men and women. The symptoms of infection are often undetectable.
“Up to 10 percent of people aged 20-39 are likely to have chlamydia,” Gary says.
The bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis also triggers an immune response that induces wound repair processes that don’t get shut down when treated with antibiotics. Moreover, some women have a stronger inflammatory response and are more likely to develop pelvic inflammatory disease—another consequence of chlamydial infection.
This overzealous healing process creates ongoing inflammation, tissue damage and scarring in the reproductive tract as well as a form of infectious blindness called trachoma found in developing countries.
Manipulating chlamydia in a lab is tricky as it only survives when growing inside a cell. But Gary created a system to track every gene contributing to different stages of the infection.
By comparing Chlamydia species, they’ve also separated a core response from species-specific responses.