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Discovery could lead to better treatment for cryptosporidum infections

In 1993, a water-borne parasite in Milwaukee was responsible for an estimated 403,000 cases of acute gastrointestinal disease, and the outbreak revealed that patients with AIDS are at an especially grave risk. About half of Milwaukee's residents with AIDS were infected with the parasite, 68 percent of whom died within six months. This parasite, Cryptosporidium parvum, is highly resistant to standard water treatment, which has caused additional concerns over its potential use in bioterrorism.

Now a team of biologists from the University of Georgia, led by Boris Striepen, has discovered that the parasite depends on so-called "salvage enzymes" to steal away nutrients from its host to survive. This discovery provides new targets for drugs designed to treat victims of this parasitic disease for which there is currently no effective cure.

The findings were published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Co-authors of the paper are Jessica Kissinger, Andrea Pruijssers, Jinling Huang, Marc-Jan Gubbels, Catherine Li and Nwakaso Umejiego of UGA's Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases (CTEGD); and Lizbeth Hedstrom of the department of biochemistry at Brandeis University.

"There are a number of reasons why it's urgent to find some way to treat those infected with C. parvum," said Striepen, also of the CTEGD. "Chronic severe diarrhea caused by the parasite is a frequent and life-threatening complication in AIDS patients, and the disease also causes significant morbidity in children in many areas of the world, especially when combined with malnourishment."

Outbreaks of disease caused by the parasite are not uncommon in the United States and other industrialized nations, and Cryptosporidium has become the most important contaminant found in drinking water. In 2000 and 2001, there were three drinking-water-associated outbreaks in Northern Ireland, for instance, and several hundred cases of illness discovered.
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Contact: Phil Williams
phil@franklin.uga.edu
706-542-8501
University of Georgia
16-Feb-2004


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