Researchers at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia may have found a possible cure for melioidosis by uncovering the workings of the bacteria that causes the deadly infectious disease.
Revealing this in the university's news portal, UKM Research and Innovation Affairs Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Rahmah Mohamed said the discovery, described as a major breakthrough, could lead to prevention and treatment of the disease.
"We have discovered a potent toxin, Burkholderia Lethal factor 1-BLF1, which prevents cells from breaking down protein in an infected body," she said.
"The outcome is that cells begin to die, leading to eventual organ failure and finally death."
She said the finding was a major breakthrough in discovering how the bacteria works and causes death in its infected hosts.
"Given the number of people wanting to understand the disease, this discovery is going to have a huge impact on our handling of future outbreaks."
Rahmah said there was currently no available vaccine for the life-threatening disease that has become a major health challenge in Malaysia and other Southeast Asian countries.
UKM Vice-Chancellor Professor Tan Sri Sharifah Hapsah Syed Hasan said the breakthrough was significant not only because of its scientific value but also because of the international collaboration.
"It serves to show the importance of international collaboration and UKM is very proud of the team," she added.
The UKM researchers had worked closely with the Malaysian Genome Institute, laboratories from the United Kingdom and also researchers from Singapore.
The disease gained notoriety as the cause of death of several men who were involved in a search-and-rescue operation of a drowning victim at the Lubuk Yu recreational area in Maran, Pahang, in July last year.
In Sarawak, 343 cases of melioidosis were reported last year, 17 of which were fatal.
Melioidosis is caused by a Gram-negative bacterium, Burkholderia pseudomallei, found in soil and water.
Symptoms may include pain in the chest, bones or joints; cough; skin infections, lung nodules and pneumonia.