Fuse of 'Vietnamese time bomb' identified

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Scientists have made a major breakthrough that could lead to a vaccine against the deadly tropical disease melioidosis, which infects millions of people, a study published on Thursday said.

The findings in the journal Science and show how a toxin produced by the bacterium Burkholderia pseudomallei kills cells by preventing protein synthesis, inhibiting the growth of the bacteria causing melioidosis.

The study, led by the University of Sheffield, could lead to the creation of new therapies to combat the bacterium causing melioidosis, which flourishes in Southeast Asia and northern Australia and sometimes has been referred to as the "Vietnam time bomb."

"Now that we know of the existence of this toxin it opens up opportunities for the development of novel drugs that could block its effects," says University of Sheffield professor Stuart Wilson, a member of the research team.

The study, published in the November 11 edition of Science, said the research group now plans to seek funding to investigate potential applications of the bacterial toxin to fight other diseases, such as cancer, where it might find use in targeted therapies to prevent the proliferation of cancer cells.

Melioidosis, along with HIV and tuberculosis, is one of the top three causes of death from infectious disease in parts of Southeast Asia.

The illness can be difficult to diagnose, and mortality rates in areas where the bacteria is found can be as high as 40 percent.

The bacterium causing melioidosis thrives in water and in warm, moist soils and can enter the body through the lungs or through open wounds.

The ailment sometimes has been referred to as the "Vietnam time bomb."

Health officials said many US military personnel have been infected with the disease during their military service in Vietnam.

The illness can lay dormant in the body, springing to life years, even decades, later.

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