Hookworm that infects world's poor decoded

New York, Jan 20 (IANS): Neglected tropical diseases such as hookworm infection affect millions, especially children, in India and the scientists were clueless till date on how it invades and survives in humans.

Now, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis, US, have decoded the genome of the hookworm - which would aid in developing new therapies to combat hookworm disease most prevalent in the developing countries.

Going barefoot contributes to hookworm infections as the parasitic worm lives in the soil and enters the body through the feet.

“We now have a more complete picture of just how this worm invades the body, begins feeding on the blood and successfully evades the host immune defenses,” said senior author Makedonka Mitreva, assistant professor of medicine and genetics.

“This information would accelerate the development of new diagnostic tools and vaccines against the infection,” Mitreva added.

Hookworm or necator americanus causes about 85 percent of human hookworm infections.

In pregnant women, the worm can cause severe anaemia, leading to maternal deaths and low birth weights that contribute to newborn deaths, said the study published in Nature Genetics.

In children, it causes stunted growth and learning problems.

Decoding the worm's genome allowed the researchers to discover suites of genes that orchestrate each of these processes and to identify specific targets that may be vulnerable to vaccines or new drug treatments.

“We also prioritised those drug targets so that scientists can quickly follow up on the ones that appear to be most promising,” Mitreva said.

As part of their research, the scientists identified a group of molecules that appears to protect the worm from detection by the host immune system.

Hookworms evade notice by suppressing molecules that promote inflammation. This same approach may prove valuable in the treatment of autoimmune conditions.


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