For the first time, researchers have mapped the genomes of tapeworms to reveal potential drug targets on which existing drugs could act. The genome sequences provide a new resource that offers faster ways to develop urgently needed and effective treatments for these debilitating diseases. The results were published online in an open-access article in Nature on March 13, 2013 by Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute scientists and collaborators. Tapeworms cause two of the World Health Organization's 17 neglected tropical diseases; echinococcosis and cysticercosis. The research team sequenced the genomes of four species of tapeworm to explore the genetics and underlying biology of this unusual parasite. As an adult it can live relatively harmlessly in the gut, but its larvae can spread through the body with devastating effects. The larvae form cysts in the internal organs or tissues of humans and other animals. These cysts proliferate or grow in the body, much like cancer. In some species this can cause complications such as blindness and epilepsy; with others it may lead to death. "Tapeworm infections are prevalent across the world and their devastating burden is comparable to that of multiple sclerosis or malignant melanoma," says Dr. Matthew Berriman, senior author from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. "These genome sequences are helping us to immediately identify new targets for much-needed drug treatment. In addition, exploring the parasites' full DNA sequences is driving our understanding of its complex biology, helping the research community to focus on the most effective drug candidates." Normally, researchers identify new targets for drugs to combat diseases by comparing a pathogen's genome sequence with the human host's DNA to find differences between them.
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