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Medical Breakthrough Discovered at the Univ. of Iowa Could Save Thousands of Lives

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IOWA CITY, Iowa Researchers at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine have made a breakthrough that could save thousands of lives.

Professor of microbiology Dr. Patrick Schlievert said they've discovered what causes the deadly effects of infective endocarditis, a bacterial infection of the heart valves.

Dr. Schlievert said antigens, or toxins, produced by the staph bacteria that causes endocarditis, stops the body's immune system from functioning correctly, allowing the infection to spread.

"They block or they mess with the immune system function. The immune system can't function," said Dr. Schlievert.

With endocarditis, the toxins prevent the body's immune system from attacking staph infection growing on heart valves.

"By blocking the ability of the immune system to clear it, the staph can continue to grow, and it grows until pieces break off and they lodge in the lungs, or the brain, or the kidneys," Schlievert explained.

Schlievert said infective endocarditis affects about 40,000 Americans every year, and about 20,000 die from heart failure. Of the 20,000 survivors, about half will suffer from strokes, many of them deadly.

But Dr. Schlievert said early treatment with antibodies can stop the antigens, and their deadly effects.

"There are antibodies that are commercially available, that allows us to neutralize that family of toxins," he said.

He expects this treatment to become more widely practiced by doctors in the next year or so.

"I think we should be able to nearly completely eliminate the development of strokes," Dr. Schlievert said.

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