The schistosomiasis parasite flatworm infects about 200 million people in tropical areas worldwide and is endemic in more than 70 countries, where people become infected simply by bathing, drinking or cooking with water contaminated with the parasite. Although not immediately deadly, left untreated the scientists said the disease can permanently damage the lungs, kidneys, liver and intestines, and ultimately lead to death.
A drug called praziquantel has been used as the main treatment for several decades but scientists have never understood how the drug works.
The University of Minnesota researchers discovered praziquantel subverts normal regeneration to produce two-headed organisms. That observation led to the identification of molecules that control the effects of praziquantel within a flatworm model.
"Our discovery of this new biological activity of praziquantel provides a foundation for defining the relevant in vivo targets of a very important clinical drug," said Assistant Professor Jonathan Marchant, the principal investigator of the study. "Using drugs to make organisms grow two brains may seem bizarre, but the knowledge we gained illustrates the importance of basic scientific research."
The study is reported in the journal PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases.