Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Shedding light on tapeworms

24.06.2015

Professor Klaus Brehm from Würzburg is granted 750,000 euros for a new research project on tapeworms. His work may bring advances in fighting worm infections, but also in wholly different areas of medicine.

Parasitic worms are a major problem worldwide, especially in developing countries. In tropical regions, for example, several million people are suffering from schistosomiasis. In the course of this infectious disease, worms damage the liver and other organs. They can even cause cancer.


Head of a fox tapeworm: The parasite attaches to the intestinal mucosa of its host by hooks and suckers. Special "kidney cells" that help to drain the head are dyed in green.

(Image: Uriel Koziol)

Millions of people are infected with tapeworms. Particularly dangerous: dog and fox tapeworms. Their larvae form cysts in the tissue of the lung, liver or brain. These cysts proliferate or grow in the body much like tumours to reach a considerable size in some cases. In some species this can cause complications such as blindness and epilepsy, with others it may lead to death.

There have been no vaccines against these pathogens so far and only a very limited repertoire of drugs. Tapeworm cysts, for example, can only be kept in check with a lifelong chemotherapy. Once treatment is stopped, they will simply continue to grow. In Germany, around 50 people are infected with the fox tapeworm each year. This seems little compared to the figures worldwide, however, this is hardly a comfort to those affected.

Wellcome Trust funds research consortium

An international research consortium now wants to find new strategies to combat schistosomiasis and tapeworms. The Wellcome Trust, the UK's largest private funder of biomedical and veterinary research, supports the project: It promotes the "Flatworm Functional Genomics Initiative" with a Strategic Award worth five million euros. The project is set to start in late 2015 to run for five years.

Around 750,000 euros of the grant will be allocated to the team of Professor Klaus Brehm, a tapeworm expert, at the Institute of Hygiene and Microbiology of the University of Würzburg. The money is highly welcome, because: "We are far behind in our knowledge of worm parasites in infection research," as Brehm puts it. He attributes this to the fact that the tapeworm genome was only recently mapped. Moreover, there are no methods available to analyse the worms' genetic functions in the lab. But this would be necessary to find potential targets for drugs or vaccines.

Investigating the worms' genetic functions

After all: The DNA of four tapeworm species was mapped in 2013. Brehm was involved in this work which was equally funded by the Wellcome Trust and was published in the journal "Nature". "Now we have to develop methods to manipulate the worms' genes, because you have to be able to knock out a gene to understand its function."

Brehm designates the venture as a "high-risk project", meaning that it is so ambitious that the scientists could come out without a result after the project term. "But if we are successful, we will considerably advance the research in this field," the Würzburg professor adds.

Perfectly camouflaged to hide from the immune system

The scientists are not only interested in new drugs and vaccines. They see another potential benefit in the tapeworm cysts: These dangerous structures are attached to the human body like perfectly transplanted organs; they cannot be harmed by the immune system.

"How do the worms manage to camouflage themselves so efficiently? Finding the answer to that question could mean progress for organ transplantation," Brehm says. It is conceivable, for example, to disguise transplanted organs accordingly to protect them against the immune system's attack. The treatment of allergies and autoimmune diseases, too, could benefit from a better understanding of the strategies used by the worms to keep the immune system at bay.

The names of the project partners

The FUGI project (Flatworm Functional Genomics Initiative) is led by Professor Karl Hoffmann of the Aberysthwyth University in the UK.

Other partners are Matthew Berriman (Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, UK), Ludovic Vallier (Cambridge University, UK), Professor Christoph Grunau (University of Perpignan and Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, France), Professor Klaus Brehm (University of Würzburg, Germany), James Collins (University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, USA), and Professor Paul Brindley (George Washington University, USA).

Nature publication on the tapeworm genome

“The genomes of four tapeworm species reveal adaptations to parasitism”, Nature 496, 57-63, 4. April 2013, DOI: 10.1038/nature12031

Contact

Prof. Dr. Klaus Brehm, Institut für Hygiene und Mikrobiologie, Universität Würzburg, phone +49 931 31-46168, kbrehm@hygiene.uni-wuerzburg.de

Robert Emmerich | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Study shines light on brain cells that coordinate movement
26.06.2017 | University of Washington Health Sciences/UW Medicine

nachricht New insight into a central biological dogma on ion transport
26.06.2017 | Aarhus University

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Can we see monkeys from space? Emerging technologies to map biodiversity

An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Study shines light on brain cells that coordinate movement

26.06.2017 | Life Sciences

Smooth propagation of spin waves using gold

26.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Switchable DNA mini-machines store information

26.06.2017 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>