Worm ‘cell death’ discovery could lead to new drugs for deadly parasite

Researchers have for the first time identified a “programmed cell death” pathway in parasitic worms that could one day lead to new treatments for one of the world’s most serious and prevalent diseases.

The researchers study programmed cell death (also called apoptosis) in human cells. They have recently started studying the process in schistosomes, parasitic fluke worms responsible for the deadly disease schistosomiasis.

The group has shown that, unexpectedly, the cell death machinery that exists in fluke worms is remarkably similar to the cell death pathway in human cells.

More than 700 million people worldwide are at risk of schistosomiasis and 200 million people are currently infected, 85 per cent of whom live in Africa.

Each year, an estimated 200,000 people die from the disease. The parasitic worm is carried by freshwater snails in contaminated water systems, and causes damage to the spleen, liver and other organs that can be fatal.

Read more at Walter and Eliza Hall Institute