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Scientists at the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland have made a breakthrough in the global research into cryptosporidium, the parasite responsible for numerous gastrointestinal parasitic infections around the world.
Despite intensive efforts for more than 20 years, there is currently no effective drug treatment against cryptosporidium, a waterborne parasite that can infect both humans and animals.
Dr Colm Lowery, a senior member of the UU cryptosporidium research group in the University’s Centre for Molecular Biosciences at the Coleraine campus, explained that the UU’s approach involved the identification of proteins expressed at different stages of the life-cycle of the Cryptosporidium parasite.
“The study was the first major proteomic investigation of its kind on cryptosporidium species and represents a substantial step forward in our understanding of cryptosporidium biology and potential therapy development – we’ve put one of the major pieces of the jigsaw in place.”
“This breakthrough in understanding the molecular biology of the organism will help to lay the foundations for other related research which in turn could lead to the development of a vaccine for cryptosporidium,” said Dr Lowery.
The UU led research involved international collaborations between leading scientists from the University of Albany in New York (Dr Qishan Lin), Belfast City Hospital (Dr John E. Moore, and, Dr B. Cherie Millar) and the Istituto Superiore di Sanità in Rome (Dr Fabio Tosini and Dr Edoardo Pozio).
Dr William Snelling, the group’s postdoctoral researcher, reports that they have already identified a number of potential targets for the development of vaccines and chemotherapies, which could be used to improve the treatment of infected patients.
Although there has been an increase in the number of cryptosporidiosis outbreaks recorded in developed countries in recent years, it is still largely underreported which makes it difficult to assess its true impact. The largest cryptosporidium outbreak was in 1993 in the US when 403,000 people were infected through contaminated drinking water in Milwaukee. The total cost associated with this outbreak was estimated at $96 million: $ 31 million in medical costs and $64 million in productivity losses.
This research has been invited for presentation at the Annual International Cryptosporidium and Giardia research conference, which is to be held in Mexico in May 2007.