New computational model reveals novel possibilities for Helicobacter pylori treatment

A new computational model developed by researchers at the Center for Modeling Immunity to Enteric Pathogens (MIEP), Virginia Bioinformatics Institute (VBI), offers new ways to study host immune responses to Helicobacter pylori. Using the model, MIEP researchers identified an abnormal immune response linked to development of lesions during H. pylori infection of the stomach. Their findings may help clinicians pinpoint how best to treat such infections.

“This large-scale computational model of host responses to H. pylori infection combines cutting-edge approaches in computational modeling and experimental research to help elucidate immune responses to H. pylori,” said Dr. Raquel Hontecillas, Co-Director of the Nutritional Immunology and Molecular Medicine Laboratory (NIMML) and MIEP.

H. pylori is a bacterium that lives in the human gut and sometimes causes ulcers and cancers. Currently, doctors treat H. pylori infections with antibiotics that destroy the bacteria. However, H. pylori also can protect against diseases such as asthma, obesity and diabetes. Understanding how a harmless bacterial population becomes virulent and leads to disease has been difficult, but the computational model developed by MIEP researchers has led to new insights.
Based on results from experimental work with mouse models, NIMML researchers built a computational simulation that can predict how and when infection begins and progresses. The model shows the position of cells during infection and accounts for the non-uniformity and randomness of immune responses. Using the computational model, NIMML researchers found that, although H. pylori may be responsible for starting an infection, abnormal immune responses can contribute to chronic ulcers or cancers.

“The knowledge gained from such models will accelerate the development of novel drugs and vaccines for H. pylori-associated diseases,” said Dr. Hontecillas, “The ultimate aim may not be to destroy H. pylori but to learn how to manipulate the interaction of the bacterium and host immune system to produce beneficial effects.”

The paper is available here.

MIEP is funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health, under Contract No. HHSN272201000056C. PI: Josep Bassaganya-Riera.

About the Nutritional Immunology and Molecular Medicine Laboratory:
The Nutritional Immunology and Molecular Medicine Laboratory (NIMML) conducts translational research aimed at developing novel therapeutic and prophylactic approaches for modulating immune and inflammatory responses. The Laboratory has over 20 researchers and combines computational modeling, bioinformatics approaches, pre-clinical experimentation and human clinical studies to better understand the mechanisms of immune regulation at mucosal surfaces and ultimately accelerate the development of novel treatments for infectious and immune-mediated diseases. In addition, the NIMML team leads the NIAID-funded Center for Modeling Immunity to Enteric Pathogens (MIEP).

About the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute
The Virginia Bioinformatics Institute at Virginia Tech is a premier bioinformatics, computational biology and systems biology research facility that uses transdisciplinary approaches to science, combining information technology, biology and medicine. These approaches are used to interpret and apply vast amounts of biological data generated from basic research to some of today’s key challenges in the biomedical, environmental and agricultural sciences. With more than 240 highly trained multidisciplinary, international personnel, research at the institute involves collaboration in diverse disciplines such as mathematics, computer science, biology, plant pathology, biochemistry, systems biology, computational immunology, statistics, economics, synthetic biology and medicine. The large amounts of data generated by this approach are analyzed and interpreted to create new knowledge that is disseminated to the world’s scientific, governmental and wider communities.

Tiffany Trent