These amorphous blobs, many times smaller than a speck of dust, cause over 1000 deaths each year, affect over a million people around the world at any one time, and wreak $3 billion dollars’ damage annually. They’re the larval stage of tapeworm Echinococcus granulosus – the parasite that causes cystic echinococcosis. Livestock and dogs most frequently fall prey to cystic echinococcosis, but it also affects humans, for whom prolonged uncomfortable drug therapy and surgery are often the only options. A study exploring new potential treatments tested glibenclamide – a drug currently used to treat diabetes. It found that the parasite larvae faltered in the presence of glibenclamide – illustrated by the shrivelled structure of the struggling parasites exposed to the drug (centre and right) compared to the untreated larva (top left). The treatment also reduced the size of cysts in infected mice, raising real hopes for this new approach.
Written by Anthony Lewis
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