A benign protein, produced naturally by bacteria and used as an organic pesticide, has been found to be a safe, inexpensive treatment for parasitic worms that affect more than a billion people around the world.
In a new study published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology, researchers from the University of California-San Diego said they were able to determine that the protein, known as Cry5B, that can kill intestinal nematode parasites — such as human hookworms — in infected hamsters and are also likely be effective in people.
Hookworms and other intestinal parasites infect hundreds of millions of people, sometimes leaving them physically and mentally impaired. Current drugs are insufficiently effective, and resistance is rising, but Cry5B may provide a promising new treatment option.
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"The challenge is that any cure must be very cheap, it must have the ability to be mass produced in tremendous quantities, safe, and able to withstand rough conditions, including lack of refrigeration, extreme heat, and remote locations," said researcher Raffi Aroian.
Cry5B belongs to a family of proteins that are believed to be safe for humans. These proteins are produced naturally in Bacillus thuringiensis, a bacterium used on crops as a natural insecticide.
For the new study, researchers showed that a small dose of Cry5B eliminated 93 percent of hookworm parasites from infected hamsters — a rate that is far higher than what current drugs can provide.
The study was funded, in part, by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.
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