Researchers have sequenced the genome of the parasite — Schistosoma mansoni — that causes intestinal schistosomiasis (also known as bilharzia or snail fever), a devastating tropical disease that afflicts more than 200 million people in the developing world.
Najib El-Sayed, associate professor in the University of Maryland’s College of Chemical and Life Sciences, led the transatlantic research team, along with Matthew Berriman of the UK’s Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute.
Their work is published in the July 16, 2009 edition of Nature and featured on the journal’s cover. The paper reports the analysis of approximately 12,000 genes encoded in the nuclear DNA of Schistosoma mansoni, the flatworm that causes schistosomiasis.
Schistosomiasis is one of several neglected tropical diseases prevalent across much of Africa, Asia, and South America and affects mainly poor populations living in areas where water is unsafe, sanitation inadequate, and basic health care unavailable. It impacts adults and children’s capacity to work and learn, and often leads to death.
Knowing this parasite’s genome sequence, scientists will now be able to develop much-needed new treatments for schistosomiasis, for which a vaccine does not yet exist. The drug commonly used to treat this parasitic infection does not prevent re-infection, and there are growing reports of drug resistance and treatment failures.
“We have used state of the art genetic and computational approaches to decipher the genome of this pathogen and to facilitate drug discovery,” said El-Sayed, senior author of the paper. “Many promising leads for drug development targets have emerged.”
Source: University of Maryland, USA