LONDON, November 6 – The largest study to date on parasitic worm genetics has found hundreds of new clues as to how they invade the human body, evade the immune system, and cause disease.
The findings suggest possible deworming treatments to combat some of the most neglected tropical diseases – including river blindness, schistosomiasis and hookworm disease – affecting approximately one billion people worldwide.
"Parasitic worms are some of our oldest enemies and have become competent manipulators of the human immune system for millions of years," said Makedonka Mitreva of the McDonnell Genome Institute of Washington University, who was working with colleagues at the UK's Wellcome Sanger Institute and Edinburgh University.
She said that the results of this study would lead both to a deeper understanding of the biology of parasites and to a better understanding of how the human immune system can be used or controlled.
Parasitic worm infections can last for many years, causing severe pain, physical disability, delayed development in children, and social stigma associated with deformity.
Current medicines for controlling them – including medicines made by Sanofi, GSK and Johnson & Johnson – can be moderately effective and are often donated by drug manufacturers or sold at reduced prices to those who need them. However, the spectrum of drugs against worm infections is still limited.
To try to improve the potential drug pipeline and understand how worms invade and settle in humans and other animals, the research team compared the genomes of 81 species of roundworms and flatworms, including 45 whose genomes had never been sequenced before ,
The analysis identified nearly one million new genes that have not previously been seen, which are among thousands of new gene families, and identified many new potential drug targets and drugs.
"We focused our search by looking for existing drugs for human disease," said Avril Coghlan of the Sanger Institute, who worked as a team. She said this provides a possible quick route to "identifying existing drugs that could be reused for deworming".
The results of the study were published in the journal Nature Genetics yesterday. – Reuters