Cryptosporidium parvum is a tiny yet insidious waterborne parasite that wreaks havoc worldwide. This parasite is a major cause of diarrhea and malnutrition in small children in developing countries, and causes severe disease in AIDS and other immune compromised patients in the developed world.
Cryptosporidium is resistant to water chlorination. Hikers concerned about safe water stick with filters and boiling, since "Crypto" is unaffected by iodine tablets and other chemical treatments. The parasite has caused massive outbreaks in the U.S. There are neither vaccines nor effective drugs available to respond to these multiple threats to human health.
But this week, researchers at Brandeis University and the University of Georgia report they have identified lead compounds that inhibit Cryptosporidium's parasitic punch, paving the way for an effective antibiotic treatment. Scientists identified four new compounds which are better at fighting Cryptosporidium than the antibiotic paromomycin, the current gold standard for evaluating anticryptosporidial activity.
It has been very difficult to find drugs against pathogens like Cryptosporidium because the proteins of these parasites are actually very similar to those of their human host. Scientists have been further thwarted because little was known about Cryptosporidium metabolism. This situation recently changed dramatically when genome sequencing provided a genetic blueprint of Cryptosporidium.
The team then set out to find compounds that bind to the part of the parasite's protein that is most different from human protein. They tested 40,000 compounds and identified ten that inhibited the parasite protein. Four of these compounds are effective in stopping Cryptosporidium infection in the laboratory.
The lead researcher commented, "We are still a long way from an actual anticryptosporidial drug, but we are very encouraged by these results."
from a news release of Brandeis University, "Breakthrough research turns the tide on water-borne pathogen", Jan 25, 2008
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