Study Calls for More Research on Parasitic Worms

By adapting new technologies, George Washington University School of Medicine investigators are pressing their colleagues to research methods which will fight off parasitic worms.

By adapting new technologies, George Washington University (GWU) School of Medicine investigators are pressing their colleagues to research methods which will fight off parasitic worms.

Parasitic helminths, or flatworms, which includes hydatid tapeworms and schistosomes, have infected more than 300 million people has caused approximately four million disability-adjusted life years lost due to chronic illness and death each year, a GW statement claimed.

Caused by parasitic flatworms, alveolar and cystic echinococcosis and hepatosplenic/urogenital schistosomiasis are chronic and often deadly diseases.

Their call to action published in Science claimed despite the 300 million worldwide infections, the World Health Organization (WHO) has identified 17 tropical diseases associated to tapeworms that are neglected — diseases with limited research and available treatments.

“Historically considered restricted to the tropics and subtropics, suitable habitats for transmission of these parasites are now expanding into Europe, and conditions are right for similar expansions to other continents,” the authors cautioned. “The lack of vaccines perpetuates the unsustainable over-reliance on single-drug chemotherapies, a potentially catastrophic situation unless new solutions are found.”

While co-author Paul Brindley, PhD, a professor of microbiology, immunology, and tropical medicine, and scientific director of the Research Center for Neglected Diseases of Poverty at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences with several years of work has been dedicated to deciphering flatworm parasites’ genome, researchers can now identify what genes are of relevance.

“Even now, researchers are deploying retroviruses for transgenesis and genome editing of flatworm parasites to identify new ways to cure people who are afflicted by these infections. This is a major focus of research at the GW Research Center for Neglected Diseases of Poverty, which demonstrates the potential of what can already be done with new technologies,” Brindley commented in a statement.

“Harnessing the bacterial clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats”, or CRISPR, isolating parasites organs, and looking into the worms’ stem cells are other tactics being used by researchers to kill the parasites. However, these methods have been consistently used in mammals and animals models, and not as widely on tropical disease helminth parasites.

“Current drugs, in use for the last 40 years, are unsustainable and in danger of over-reliance, unless new interventions are found,” Brindley warned.