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Bacterial Protein Shows Promise in Treating Intestinal Parasites

Scientists at the University of California, San Diego and Yale University have discovered that a natural protein produced by Bacillus thuringiensis, a bacterium sprayed// on crops by organic farmers to reduce insect damage, is highly effective at treating hookworm infections in laboratory animals.

Their discovery, detailed in this week’s early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could pave the way for the development of more effective treatments for hookworm and other soil-transmitted nematode infections, which are a major global health problem in developing countries. Many of the nearly two billion people worldwide infected with these intestinal parasites are children, who are at particular risk for anemia, malnutrition and delayed growth.

The UCSD-Yale team found that a protein produced by the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt, given orally to laboratory hamsters infected with hookworms was as effective in eliminating the parasites, curing anemia and restoring weight gain in the hamsters as mebendazole, one of the drugs currently recommended to treat infections in humans. The scientists also discovered that this protein, called Cry5B, targets both developing, or larval, stages and adult parasites, as well as impairs the excretion of eggs by female worms.

Hookworms cause anemia by attaching to the intestine and feeding on their host’s blood and nutrients, causing anemia and weight loss. The researchers said in their paper that because this naturally-produced protein is safe to humans and other vertebrates and can be produced inexpensively in large quantities, it has the potential to substantially improve this global health problem.

“Our ability to control parasitic nematode infections with chemotherapy on a global scale is dependent on the availability of medicines that are safe, effective, and inexpensive to manufacture,” said Michael Cappello, one of two principal authors of t
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