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New vaccines may come from forcing giardia parasite to display its many disguises
Date:4/29/2010

This press release is available in Spanish.

The intestinal parasite Giardia lamblia changes outfits nearly as often as a fashion model on a Parisian runway. With more than 200 protein coats in its molecular wardrobe, this troublesome creaturethe cause of innumerable cases of diarrheal infections each yearcan change its appearance from one instant to the next, throwing the body's immune cells off track.

Now Hugo Lujn, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute international research scholar, reports that Giardia's extensive wardrobe of surface proteins might actually be its own downfall. In an advance online publication in the journal Nature Medicine on April 25, 2010, Lujn shows that Giardia parasites engineered to express all their surface proteins worked as vaccines that could help prevent or mitigate future infections. The same "overdressed" parasites offer protection when given orally to gerbils infected with Giardia, he says, though the idea still needs to be tested in humans.

Lujn believes Giardia's hardy surface proteinswhich help the parasite thrive in the harsh, acidic environments of the stomach and upper intestinemight eventually be used to deliver vaccines not just against Giardia but other parasites too, including malaria. "They could allow us to save money and lives," he says. "These proteins help the parasite survive but we're planning to use that armor to make new, oral vaccines."

A professor at the Catholic University of Crdoba, in Argentina, Lujn's fascination with Giardia dates back to his days as a postdoctoral fellow in parasitology, working with Theodore Nash at the National Institutes of Health. Lujn remembers being intrigued by Giardia's simplicity. Confining the parasite to a culture tube had no effect on its lifecycle, which made it easy to study and manipulate the organism. Upon returning to Argentina, Lujn contin
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Contact: Andrea Widener
widenera@hhmi.org
301-215-8807
Howard Hughes Medical Institute
Source:Eurekalert

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