Ivermectin, a medicine capable of killing the parasite embryos (the microfilariae) circulating in the organism of patients and temporarily interrupting the nematode’s reproduction, is the only treatment used for onchocerciasis control. Since 1995, the African Programme for Onchocerciasis Control (APOC) has been covering 19 of the continent’s 28 countries hit by the disease. Access to this treatment is possible for 70 million people and has significantly diminished the onchocerciasis-induced morbidity. However, the doubling of cases of infection in certain communities of Ghana between 2000 and 2005, in spite of annual treatments, created fear of the emergence of ivermectin-resistant strains. Such apprehension appears particularly justified in that a high degree of therapeutic cover is achieved during mass distribution campaigns and hence only a tiny part of the parasite population targeted remains unexposed to drug treatment pressure.
Since 1994, a team of IRD researchers, working jointly with Cameroon researchers and others from McGill University of Montreal, has been monitoring a cohort of Cameroon patients benefiting from repeated treatments with ivermectin. Regular parasite sampling from these subjects was performed over a 13-year period in order to determine the changes in the genetic structure of Onchocerca volvulus populations. Each occasion involved measurement of the genotype frequency of heterozygotes and homozygotes for the gene coding ß-tubulin, a protein involved in the organization of the parasite’s cells. The team focused on this particular gene because it acts as a marker of resistance to ivermectin in other nematode species parasitic on cattle. As a control, they monitored the changes in genotype frequency of two other genes, known for their high evolutionary stability over time. The proportion of homozygotes and heterozygotes for these two genes remained stable throughout the investigation, but the situation was completely different for the ß-tubulin gene.
Between 1994 and 1998, the percentage of parasites showing a genotype homozygous for this gene fell from 79 to 31% in subjects receiving quarterly treatment with ivermectin. At the same time, the proportion of heterozygous genotypes changed in the opposite sense, rising from 21 to 69%. These results could be the sign of adaptation of nematode worm populations to repeated treatments using this drug. The research team inferred that the parasites showing a genotype homozygous for ß-tubulin are more susceptible to it. As courses of treatment progressed, they would therefore gradually disappear, to the benefit of the more resistant heterozygous strains. Ivermectin’s effect on microfilariae, other than its direct one, is to prevent them from leaving the uterus of adult worms, for several months after treatment: this is its embryostatic effect. Post-treatment, there were more microfilariae in the uterus of homozygous female parasites than in those of heterozygous females. This could mean that, in the latter, the microfilariae succeed in leaving the uterus, as they usually do in the absence of treatment, and therefore that the embryostatic effect of ivermectin would be diminished. Contrary to the effect anticipated, the repeated exposure to treatments could in this way select those worms more able to keep up the production of new generations. Nevertheless, the drug’s direct action on the microfilariae appeared not to change, and hence, for the moment, there is no reason to call into question the current control strategy against the disease based on annual treatments with ivermectin.
Affirmation of the results requires further investigations¹, starting from new cohorts subjects infected by Onchocerca volvulus who have not yet been treated with ivermectin. This type of approach should bring more information on the risks of the parasite’s resistance to this drug. If such risks were confirmed, then the whole onchocerciasis control strategy would probably have to be revised. Nevertheless, for many years to come, ivermectin could well remain the sole drug applicable for mass treatment in measures to control river blindness.
Grégory Fléchet - DIC
1. A study coordinated by the IRD and financed by the French Agence nationale de la recherche (ANR), aiming to find more extensive information on possible resistance of the onchocerciasis parasite to ivermectin, is currently being conducted in Cameroon jointly with a team from INRA, research scientists from the universities of Yaoundé I and Buea (Cameroon), the Cameroon Ministry of Public Health, McGill University of Montreal (Canada) and Imperial College London (United Kingdom).
Grégory Fléchet | alfa
Novel mechanisms of action discovered for the skin cancer medication Imiquimod
21.10.2016 | Technische Universität München
Second research flight into zero gravity
21.10.2016 | Universität Zürich
Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.
"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...
In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.
A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...
By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.
"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...
COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.
In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...
'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.
Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...
14.10.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
12.10.2016 | Event News
21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine
21.10.2016 | Information Technology
21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences