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Worm's Weakness

Parasitic worms' intestine cells can't regenerate - using this weakness as a target for treatment

15 July 2020

Worm's Weakness

Microscopic parasitic worms infiltrate billions of people’s bodies worldwide and cause everything from blindness to anaemia, and can be fatal. Parasitic nematodes, such as the roundworm species Ascaris suum, have a weakness though: their intestinal cells don’t regenerate, so may not heal when injured. Encouraged by the hope that any interference with the worm intestine might be a killing blow, researchers analysed the genes and molecules associated with its essential functions. They discovered 10 molecules inhibited the organ, seven of which caused severe damage (right, with cell arrangement disrupted after addition of the inhibitor compared to the intestine of an unaltered worm, left). Some of these molecular weapons worked against several different species, suggesting they may be useful for a broad range of infections, and that focusing further research on the intestine – the nematode’s Achilles heel – could lead to new treatments.

Written by Anthony Lewis

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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