In the 1980s, scientists from the Institute and elsewhere discovered that defects in the cell death pathway were associated with cancer development. Dr Lee said the team are currently exploring the possibility that so-called 'BH3 mimetic' compounds such as ABT-737, discovered by biotechnology company Abbott, could also have a niche application for the treatment of parasitic worm diseases such as schistosomiasis. BH3 mimetics target the cell death pathway in humans and are currently being trialled as anti-cancer agents.
"The Bcl-2-regulated cell death pathway is currently being investigated as a therapeutic target for the treatment of some cancers," Dr Lee said. "We have found that a BH3-mimetic compound called ABT-737 binds to at least one schistosome pro-survival protein, suggesting it is feasible that BH3-like molecules could also be developed for treating schistosomiasis, and potentially other parasitic worm infections."
While the discovery leads to exciting new possibilities for the treatment of parasitic worm diseases, Dr Fairlie said there is still a lot to be understood about the cell death process in fluke worms before this becomes a reality. "Though we have found that this cell death pathway exists in the parasite, we don't yet know how important it is for the survival of the worm, or what the effect of drugs targeting the pathway will be. But we are excited about the possibility of developing an entirely new treatment strategy for schistosomiasis, which is a significant disease burden in developing countries," he said.
|Contact: Liz Williams|
Walter and Eliza Hall Institute