Parasite genome sequences offer hope for new drugs and vaccines, Science studies say

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Scientists have sequenced and compared the genomes of three of the parasites responsible for sleeping sickness, Chagas disease and leishmaniasis, three devastating diseases of the developing world.

These parasites collectively cause disease and death in millions of humans each year, and the new genome sequences provide critical information for drug and vaccine developers, according to new research appearing in the 15 July 2005 issue of the journal Science, published by AAAS, the nonprofit science society.

In addition to offering drug and vaccine leads, the research provides a detailed roadmap of the biology and evolution of these unicellular organisms, or "protozoa," from the family Trypanosomatidae, which parasitize humans and other mammals, birds, reptiles, fish, insects and plants. Insects transmit these disease-causing parasites to humans living in tropical and subtropical regions of the world.

Researchers identified about 6,200 core genes that are present in all three parasites in a similar order within each genome. Some of the proteins encoded in these genes could serve as targets for drugs that would be effective against all three parasites, a worthy goal given the fact that there are currently no vaccines for these diseases, and only a few drugs, most of which are inadequate due to resistance, toxicity or expense.

The sequencing initiative also identified genes specific to each parasite and this information could be useful for parasite-specific drug and vaccine development efforts.

"Thanks to these studies, scientists are now much closer than they were five years ago to developing effective drugs against these

Contact: Ginger Pinholster
American Association for the Advancement of Science

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