The largest study to date on the genetic composition of parasitic worms has found hundreds of new indications of how they invade the human body, avoiding their immune system and causing disease.
The results show possible depilation treatments to help combat some of the most neglected tropical diseases – including river blindness, schistosoma and brachytherapy – that afflict about a billion people worldwide.
"Parasitic worms are some of our oldest enemies and have evolved for millions of years to be specialized operators of the human immune system," said Makedonka Mitreva of the McDonnell Genome Institute at the University of Washington, who co-organized the work with colleagues from Wellcome Sanger Institute of the UK and Edinburgh University.
He said the results of this study would lead to a deeper knowledge of pest biology and a better understanding of how human immune systems can be exploited or controlled.
Parasitic worm infections can last for many years and cause severe pain, physical disabilities, delayed child development, and social stigma associated with distortion.
Current drugs to fight them – including drugs from Sanofi, GSK and Johnson & Johnson – can be moderately effective and often donated by pharmacists or sold at reduced prices to those who need them. However, the range of drugs for the treatment of worm infections is still limited.
In order 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 worms and broadleaf, including 45 that did not previously have their genomes.
The analysis found nearly one million new genes they had not seen before and belonged to thousands of new gene families and identified many new potential targets and drugs.
"We focused our research on existing drugs for human illness," said Avril Coghlan of the Sanger Institute, who worked in the team. He said that this provides a possible quick path "to identify existing drugs that could be repositioned for deoxidation."
The findings of the study were published on Monday in the journal Nature Genetics.