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Scientists Map Elephantiasis Parasite's Genome

Achievement should help fight the disfiguring disease

THURSDAY, Sept. 20 (HealthDay News) -- An international team of scientists says they've documented the genetic sequence of one of the world's most debilitating human parasites.

Microscopic Brugia malayi worms can live for years inside the human body. The parasite can be transmitted through the bites of infected insects or spiders, noted researchers reporting in the Sept. 21 issue of the journal Science.

Infection with B. malayi can lead to a disfiguring disease called elephantiasis, which features an excessive buildup of lymphatic fluid in the body and extreme swelling in the limbs, trunk or head. It's estimated that B. malayi has seriously incapacitated and disfigured more than 40 million people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.

The researchers said the genetic sequence of B. malayi reveals dozens of potential new targets for drugs or vaccines to understand, treat and prevent elephantiasis.

"The genomic information gives us a better understanding of what genes are important for different processes in the parasite's life cycle. So, it will now be possible to target these genes more specifically and interrupt its life cycle," study first author Elodie Ghedin, assistant professor of infectious diseases at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, said in a prepared statement.

Current drugs target the larvae but don't completely kill the worms. Often, patients must take drugs periodically for years. When a worm does die, it can release foreign molecules into the body that cause a major immune reaction.

More information

The World Health Organization has more about elephantiasis.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: University of Pittsburgh Schools of Health Sciences, news release, Sept. 20, 2007

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