While rare, botulism can cause paralysis and is potentially fatal. It is caused by nerve-damaging toxins produced by Clostridium botulinum — the most potent toxins known. These toxins are often found in contaminated food (home canning being a major culprit). Infants can also develop botulism from ingesting C. botulinum spores in honey, soil, or dust; the bacterium then colonizes their intestines and produces the toxin.
Once paralysis develops, there is no way to reverse it, other than waiting for the toxins to wear off. People with serious cases of botulism may need to be maintained on ventilators for weeks or months. But a new treatment approach and delivery vehicle, described today in Science Translational Medicine, could change that.
“There are anti-toxins, but these only work before the toxins enter the motor neurons,” says Min Dong, PhD, a researcher in Boston Children’s Hospital’s Department of Urology and corresponding author on the paper. “What we have developed is the first therapy that can eliminate toxins after they get inside neurons.”