Researchers say a new experimental model for Toxoplasma gondii, pictured, which causes toxoplasmosis, may lead to treatment for the infection and could help with research on other diseases. Photo by fotovapl/Shutterstock
CHICAGO, July 19 (UPI) -- The brain infection toxoplasmosis is incurable but generally not life-threatening, though it can damage the sight of millions who have it, threatens the health of infants and children, and can cause significant health issues for people with AIDS or cancer whose immune systems are compromised.
Researchers from the United States, England and France outlined methods for better research into the bacteria Toxoplasma gondii, which causes the infection, in a study published in the journal Scientific Reports.
During the last ten years, more than 6,000 people per year have been infected by the bacteria, and more than 2 billion people around the world are estimated to be infected.
Most people are not aware they have been infected by the bacteria, or that they have toxoplasmosis, which can be acquired by eating undercooked, contaminated meat, drinking contaminated water or accidentally swallowing the parasite through cat feces. The infection can also be transmitted from a mother to her child if she is newly infected, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
In the study, researchers identified an experimental model of the toxoplasmosis-causing bacteria called EGS, which is similar to dormant cystic parasites living in human brain cells.
Using the model, researchers identified targets critical to T. gondii's life cycle, allowing them to develop compounds that limit the bug's ability to survive and may be able to cross the blood-brain barrier to allow treatment of central nervous system infections.
These compounds, the researchers report, were also effective against Plasmodium falciparum, the bacteria that causes malaria, suggesting the toxoplasmosis research could be beneficial beyond just the one infection.
"[This is] an immensely useful and important advance for medicine development," Dr. Rima McLeod, a professor of ophthalmology, visual sciences and pediatrics at the University of Chicago, said in a press release on discovery of the experimental model. "It allows us to define its genotype and phenotype in depth and to identify what it does to its human host's blood and primary brain stem cells. Remarkably, this encysted parasite turns on host cell pathways in ways that can alter ribosomal function and cause mis-splicing of transcripts, as well as other flaws associated with Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases."