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Parasite opens questions about superbugs

January 25th, 2012
by Tania

Leishmania donovani in bone marrow cell. Smear. Parasite.The Institute of Tropical Medicine (ITG) has uncovered a parasite which has developed resistance to a common drug, while also becoming better at fighting the defences of the human immune system.

A new paper from Manu Vanaerschot, who obtained a PhD for his detective work at ITG and Antwerp University, examines the possibility that human medicines have helped develop superbugs, by allowing it a greater chance of withstanding immune response.

Dr Vanaerschot's research was undertaken on the Leishmania parasite, the only known organism which has chromosomes that do not come in pairs, a discovery recently made by the ITG.

"To our knowledge it is the first time such a doubly armed organism appears in nature. It certainly makes you think," he added.

The parasite is responsible for Leishmaniasis, deemed to be one of the most important parasitic diseases after malaria. Leishmania donovani was created as a combined result of the resistance to both drugs and the immune system.

Although there is not yet any proof, Dr Vanaerschot believes this version is not only better at surviving in the human body, but also makes people more ill, marking the first discovery of an organism that always benefits from its resistance.

Under normal conditions, drugs do not benefit from their resistance outside the body, as they have to divert resources to maintaining the resistance when it is no use to them.

According to recent figures from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, cases of antibiotic resistance are rising in Europe.

Several member states are reporting between 15 percent and almost 50 percent of cases of Klebsiella Pneumonia are now resistant to the last-defence class of antibiotics Carbapenems.

However, in the case of Leishmania, the resistant parasite even survives better in the absence of the drug.

"Did our medicines create a superbug? A legitimate question, and the phenomenon has to be investigated, but this sole case doesn't imply we better stop developing new medicines," the ITG concluded. 

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Posted in Industry News, Life Science, Medical Science

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