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.
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
Prof. Dr. Klaus Brehm, Institut für Hygiene und Mikrobiologie, Universität Würzburg, phone +49 931 31-46168, firstname.lastname@example.org
Robert Emmerich | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft
North and South Cooperation to Combat Tuberculosis
22.03.2018 | Universität Zürich
Researchers Discover New Anti-Cancer Protein
22.03.2018 | Universität Basel
An international team of researchers has discovered a new anti-cancer protein. The protein, called LHPP, prevents the uncontrolled proliferation of cancer cells in the liver. The researchers led by Prof. Michael N. Hall from the Biozentrum, University of Basel, report in “Nature” that LHPP can also serve as a biomarker for the diagnosis and prognosis of liver cancer.
The incidence of liver cancer, also known as hepatocellular carcinoma, is steadily increasing. In the last twenty years, the number of cases has almost doubled...
In just a few weeks from now, the Chinese space station Tiangong-1 will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere where it will to a large extent burn up. It is possible that some debris will reach the Earth's surface. Tiangong-1 is orbiting the Earth uncontrolled at a speed of approx. 29,000 km/h.Currently the prognosis relating to the time of impact currently lies within a window of several days. The scientists at Fraunhofer FHR have already been monitoring Tiangong-1 for a number of weeks with their TIRA system, one of the most powerful space observation radars in the world, with a view to supporting the German Space Situational Awareness Center and the ESA with their re-entry forecasts.
Following the loss of radio contact with Tiangong-1 in 2016 and due to the low orbital height, it is now inevitable that the Chinese space station will...
Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP, provider of research and development services for OLED lighting solutions, announces the founding of the “OLED Licht Forum” and presents latest OLED design and lighting solutions during light+building, from March 18th – 23rd, 2018 in Frankfurt a.M./Germany, at booth no. F91 in Hall 4.0.
They are united in their passion for OLED (organic light emitting diodes) lighting with all of its unique facets and application possibilities. Thus experts in...
A new scenario seeking to explain how Mars' putative oceans came and went over the last 4 billion years implies that the oceans formed several hundred million...
For the first time, an interdisciplinary team from the University of Basel has succeeded in integrating artificial organelles into the cells of live zebrafish embryos. This innovative approach using artificial organelles as cellular implants offers new potential in treating a range of diseases, as the authors report in an article published in Nature Communications.
In the cells of higher organisms, organelles such as the nucleus or mitochondria perform a range of complex functions necessary for life. In the networks of...
19.03.2018 | Event News
16.03.2018 | Event News
13.03.2018 | Event News
22.03.2018 | Trade Fair News
22.03.2018 | Earth Sciences
22.03.2018 | Earth Sciences