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Common Genetics Key to Fighting Deadly Parasites

New insights into illnesses that threaten millions worldwide

THURSDAY, July 14, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Three different parasites driving three tropical diseases -- sleeping sickness, Chagas disease and leishmaniasis -- have a lot in common, genetically, researchers report.

In fact, the parasites share a common genetic core of about 6,200 conserved genes and their genetic similarities far outweigh their differences, according to several studies in the July 15 issue of Science.

The findings may help in the development of new drugs that target these parasites and the debilitating, often fatal illnesses they cause.

"This common core of genes is extremely important because it may provide targets for a new generation of drugs that might fight all three parasites, which threaten millions of people worldwide," researcher Najib El-Sayed, a molecular biologist at The Institute for Genomic Research in Rockville, Md., said in a prepared statement.

"At the moment, there are no vaccines and only a few inadequate drugs to fight these devastating and neglected diseases," El-Sayed said.

Fellow researcher Peter J. Myler, of the Seattle Biomedical Research Institute, added, "Now that the genes of these parasites are mapped out, it's much easier to identify genes that are critical for parasite survival. Genes encoding proteins that are involved in critical biological processes often serve as drug targets."

All three of these illnesses are transmitted to humans via insect bites. Chagas disease infects as many as 18 million people, and threatens about 100 million others in Latin America. Sleeping sickness infects between 300,000 and 500,000 people, and threatens more than 60 million in 36 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Leishmaniasis is endemic in 88 countries, and threatens as many as 300 million people.

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine offers a traveler's guide to avoiding infectious diseases.

SOURCE: Institute for Genomic Research, news release, July 14, 2005
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