25 September 2007
The genome sequence of the roundworm Brugia malayi, the causative agent of lymphatic filariasis (also referred to as elephantiasis) has been completed by a collaborative US and UK research team, and is reported in the journal Science [Ghedin E (2007) Science 317(5845):1756-60]. Present primarily in the developing world, B. malayi infects more than 130 million people, causing significant morbidity; chronic infection with the parasite can cause severe and disabling swelling of the legs.
The authors say that the genome sequence, along with the predicted repertoire of proteins it encodes, provides a valuable opportunity for rational drug design, by identifying and exploiting key interactions between the parasite, its human and vector hosts (mosquitoes) and its endosymbiotic (internal) bacterium, Wolbachia. The genome sequence of this bacterium, which is present in all B. malayi roundworms, has already been reported [Foster JM et al. (2004) Int J Parasitol. 234(6):733-46].
Drugs that are effective against lymphatic filariasis are already available, but generally not accessible to those who need them most, despite relatively low costs; this makes the need for a vaccine against the disease more acute, and this latest research could facilitate that process. However, others suggest that it would be feasible to eradicate the disease entirely by 2020, if existing antifilarial drugs were provided to those that require them, and propose that genome-based research is unlikely to yield clinically useful products within this timescale (see BBC news report).