UMass Amherst Podcast Looks At Microbiologists’ Work in Redefining the Role of Chlamydia in Serious Diseases

AMHERST, Mass. – The University of Massachusetts Amherst’s podcast series about the breakthrough discoveries of campus researchers focuses this month on the work of two microbiologists examining the role that the common bacteria chlamydia plays in a host of serious diseases such as asthma.

This “TechCast at UMass Amherst” episode includes interviews with Wilmore Webley and Elizabeth Stuart, microbiology, and their work redefining the role that bacteria can play in chronic illness. The research is pointing to more effective methods of prevention and treatment. Episodes are posted at www.umasstechcast.org, where they can be downloaded to a computer or portable audio player. Visitors to the site also can subscribe to automatically receive new episodes of the podcast.

The bacteria chlamydia is the leading cause of sexually transmitted disease in the United States today. It is so common that more than half the population has been exposed to it by the age of 20. But that doesn’t necessarily mean people are getting infected by having sex. Stuart and Webley have been examining how the bacterium spreads, both inside and outside the body.

They’ve found it in the lungs, where it causes inflammation and asthma, and it can travel from person to person through the air. They’ve found it in the blood, where it causes hardening of the arteries, and it can also pass to a child during birth. And the scientists also believe chlamydia may be a co-factor in cancer. Some treatments can drive the bacteria into a latent state where it’s not causing any obvious symptoms. Stuart and Webley call it a “stealth pathogen.”

The research Stuart and Webley are conducting took a whole new approach to the problem of chlamydia, one focused more on what’s happening to patients rather than to the bacteria in a test tube. Webley’s previous work as a medical technologist helped. Now the two scientists are developing new protocols for diagnosing and treating chlamydia infections. One is to look at a pregnant mother’s blood to see if there are any cells infected by the two types of chlamydia.

TechCast at UMass Amherst is produced under the direction of the Office of News and Information at UMass Amherst in conjunction with CVIP. The program host is Francesca Rheannon, an award-winning producer whose work has been heard on National Public Radio, including WFCR in Amherst. The series is supported by a generous gift from UMass Amherst alumnus Lewis J. Geffen. To learn more about the work of CVIP, visit www.umass.edu/research/cvip.

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