Researchers at the Illinois State University and NIH's Chemical Genomics Center (NCGC) have identified chemical compounds that hold promise as potential therapies for schistosomiasis, a parasitic disease that afflicts more than 200 million people worldwide.
In the study, researchers report that chemical compounds known as oxadiazoles can inhibit an enzyme crucial for the survival of Schistosoma, a group of parasitic flatworms that cause schistosomiasis.
"New therapeutic agents are sorely needed if we hope to ease the burden of schistosomiasis on the world's health," Nature quoted NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D, as sayig.
"These findings exemplify what academic researchers can accomplish with access to translational infrastructure and technologies that have previously been beyond their reach," Zerhouni added.
People get Schistosoma infection when they wade, swim or bathe in fresh water inhabited by snails, which serve as the worms' intermediate hosts.
The microscopic worms gets entrance into human body by boring through the skin and migrate into the blood vessels that supply the intestinal and urinary systems.
Once the worms mature and reproduce, their eggs are removed in human urine and feces. If human waste contaminated by worm eggs finds its way into fresh water, the cycle begins again.
In the study, which was conducted with Schistosoma maintained in laboratory conditions, researchers showed that an oxadiazole compound was effective in inhibiting a crucial worm enzyme, called thioredoxin glutathione reductase (TGR).
Also, researchers found that in tests of laboratory mice infected with Schistosoma, the compound killed the parasite in all of its stages, from larva to adult.
The findings exceeded all benchmarks set by the World Health Organization for potential new compounds to treat schistosomiasis.
The researchers also showed that the compound was active against all three major species of Schistosoma worms that infect humans.
"This builds upon my lab's previous findings that Schistosoma worms survive in the host due to a protective enzyme TGR. By teaming with NCGC, we were able to move our research one step closer to the clinic by identifying a class of compounds that specifically target that enzyme," said the study's lead researcher, David L. Williams, Ph.D., a professor of biology at ISU and NIAID grantee.
"Still, much remains to be done. Our ultimate goal is to see our basic biological findings translated into help for people with schistosomiasis.," he added.
The findings were reported in an online publication of the journal Nature Medicine.