Experiment reveals ulcer bug's weak point

High-power X-rays have revealed a potential drug target in H pylori, the ulcer-causing bacteria that infect half the world's population.

In 1982, Australian scientists extracted bacteria from a person's stomach, grew them in a petri dish and identified them as the cause of ulcers and gastritis.

Three decades later, scientists have now used powerful X-rays at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Centre's (SLAC) National Accelerator Laboratory at Stanford to reveal a potential way to attack the common stomach bacteria.

At least half the world's population carries the bacteria, Helicobacter pylori, and hundreds of millions suffer health problems that ultimately increase the odds of developing stomach cancer. Current treatments require a complicated regimen of stomach-acid inhibitors and antibiotics, the latter of which have the side effect of indiscriminately knocking out beneficial bacteria.

H. pylori is a robust bacterium, able to thrive in an environment that's as caustic as car battery acid. Crucial to H. pylori's survival are tiny protein channels within its cell membrane. Urea from the surrounding gastric juices passes through these channels and into the bacterium, which converts the urea into ammonia that protects it from the acid.

Blocking the channels would disable this protective system, leading to a new treatment for people with the infection.