Nanotechnology used in new chlamydia treatment developed by University of Waterloo researchers

Researchers at the University of Waterloo's School of Pharmacy have developed a gene therapy to prevent and treat chlamydia.

Gene therapy is used to block bacteria from entering cell, or treats it if it's already there

Emmanuel Ho, standing, is a professor from University of Waterloo's School of Pharmacy. He led research into a new way to prevent and treat chlamydia by using a type of gene therapy delivered through nanotechnology. (University of Waterloo/Alana Rigby)

Researchers at the University of Waterloo say they've developed a new way to prevent and treat chlamydia.

The treatment uses nanotechnology to deliver gene therapy, which prevents and treats the sexually transmitted disease said lead researcher Emmanuel Ho, a professor from University of Waterloo's School of Pharmacy.

Ho says the treatment "knocks down" a gene in the cell, preventing chlamydia from latching on and infecting it. If the cell is already infected, the therapy encourages the cell to active a process "which basically puts a little bubble around the chlamydia and then destroys it."

Ho's technique uses a unique nanoparticle that enables the gene therapy to enter the cells. The treatment would be administered as a topical gel or cream to the genitals.

Common sexually transmitted infection 

Health Canada says chlamydia is the most commonly reported bacterial sexually transmitted infection in the country.

In 2015, a total of 116,499 cases of chlamydia were reported in Canada and rates have been steadily increasing since 1997.

The traditional treatment for chlamydia is antibiotics. Ho said the problem with antibiotics is there's a major concern of infections, including chlamydia, becoming more drug resistant. 

"We're trying to develop, in advance, an antibiotic alternative," Ho said. "When chlamydia or other types of infections are truly 100 per cent ineffective because of antibiotics, then we have a second line of defence."

Still early in research

​Ho said a single dose of the treatment has a 65 per cent prevention success rate.

The next steps are to evaluate how the treatment works in animal models, then move on to human clinical trials.

"We are still in the early stages but we're very hopeful," Ho said of the treatment eventually going to market.

Right now, he noted the treatment is more costly than antibiotics but Ho says he hopes the cost will go down over time as it's mass produced.

And, he says, the way it's administered could be used for other infections.

"For our study, we just used chlamydia as more of a model sexually transmitted infection, but this could technically be used for other sexually transmitted infections, for example, gonorrhea," he said. "I believe it can be applied to other infections as well."