A potential vaccination against the microorganisms that can cause urinary tract infections (UTIs)

White blood cells seen under a microscope from a urine sample.
By Bobjgalindo – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5652287

In order to combat uropathogenic E. coli (UPEC), the bacteria responsible for most cases of urinary tract infections (UTIs), a team of scientists from Duke University have created a vaccine. The team explains the development of their vaccine and the results of tests on mice and rabbits in a study published in Science Advances.

Urinary tract infections affect primarily females and cause excruciating discomfort when urinating, as well as additional problems that, if left untreated, can be fatal. Typically, antibiotics are used to treat such illnesses. Some women get persistent infections, resulting in repeated UTI episodes each year.

When this happens, it’s problematic to keep giving out antibiotics, as they wipe out the good bacteria in the gut and can lead to a host of other gastrointestinal issues. The researchers in this study took a novel strategy to treating UTIs by avoiding broad-spectrum antibiotics in favor of a medication that kills only the culprit bacteria.

Medical professionals have struggled for years to develop an effective vaccine against urinary tract infections (UTIs) due to the cellular mucosa that lines the oral and urinary tracts. Researchers attempted multiple strategies, including the modification of medicines with enhanced mucosal penetration, to address this issue.

By exposing the immune system to three peptides found on the surface of UPEC, they were able to create a type of peptide nanofiber that could not only enter the mucosa but also teach the immune system to recognize and attack UPEC. Due to the similarity between the mucous membranes lining the mouth and the urine tract, it was discovered that the vaccine administration strategy induced an immune response in the urinary tract. The team’s pills dissolve in the mouth and are taken underneath the tongue.

The researchers found that their vaccination was equally effective as standard antibiotics and that repeated administration did not cause intestinal discomfort when tested on mice and rabbits. Antibiotic resistance could be slowed if the vaccination is shown to be effective in humans. This would significantly reduce the quantity of antibiotics used to treat infections.


Sean H. Kelly et al. (2022). A sublingual nanofiber vaccine to prevent urinary tract infections, Science AdvancesDOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abq4120