Most humans will cringe at the thought of little, bloodsucking parasites living inside a human body's small intestines. That's exactly what a hookworm does, and for decades, scientists have been looking for a more effective treatment that will get rid of these nasty parasites.
Every year, over 700 million individuals get infected by hookworms all over the world. Most of these cases happen in poorer countries, though outbreaks in developed countries have also been documented. Hookworms are parasitic nematodes that occur in the small intestines of many mammals. While there are many species of hookworm, only two species are commonly seen infecting humans. In India, North Africa and parts of southern Europe, Ancylostoma duodenale is the more common species. In North America, South America and a large part of Asia however, Necator americanus is more common and researchers chose to focus on this species for the recent study.
A team of researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine conducted the study and the team has successfully completed the genome of N. americanus. The team, which published its findings in the journal Nature Genetics on Jan. 19, has found that the decoded genome can help medical professionals come up with effective treatments to control hookworm infections.
"This genome provides an invaluable resource to boost ongoing efforts toward fundamental and applied postgenomic research, including the development of new methods to control hookworm and human immunological diseases," said the team in its report.
While not fatal, N. americanus infections can often lead to painful symptoms in sufferers. Moreover, the parasite may also cause complications such as anemia among pregnant women. This has been known to increase the chances of low birth weights in infants and increased maternal mortality rates. Current treatments for hookworm infections often include albendazole, a deworming drug that can be quite effective against hookworms. However, overuse of the drug can lead to drug resistance making successive treatments less effective over time.
With the entire genome of N. americanus laid bare, researchers will be able to target specific genes that may provide more information about the specific vulnerabilities of the parasite. With the data in hand, further analysis could lead to the development of new drugs or vaccines that can effectively take down the parasite without harming the host.