The genome of fox, dog and dwarf tapeworm has been decoded, as an international team of researchers reported in the science magazine „Nature“ in 2013. They highlighted possible weak spots of the dangerous parasites in the publication. On the team: the expert for fox tapeworms, Professor Klaus Brehm from the Institute of Hygiene and Microbiology of the Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg (JMU) in Bavaria, Germany.
Their achievement was recently rewarded with the Memento Research Award. The award, which comes with a prize money of EUR 5,000, was presented in Berlin on 24 February 2016.
„The seminal description of the genome and global gene expression of fox tapeworm is the decisive basis for developing drugs to treat tapeworm infections,“ says Professor Stefan Kaufmann, jury chairman and director of Immunology at the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Berlin.
“More efforts made for anti-ageing lotions”
We still know far too little about the pathogens and the origins of other neglected diseases often associated with poverty. According to Kaufmann, this knowledge is crucial in order to develop urgently needed drugs, vaccines and diagnostic tools against these diseases that affect millions of people worldwide.
„We can no longer afford to ignore the basic needs of a third of humanity,“ Professor Brehm says. This is also true for infectious diseases. In order to develop effective treatment of neglected diseases, thorough basic research of the pathogens is required. Industrial nations do too little in this regard: „In Germany, we invest more in developing new anti-ageing lotions than in fighting lethal, neglected diseases. This seems rather disproportionate to me,“ says Brehm.
Tapeworm larvae are most dangerous
Millions of people worldwide are suffering from sleeping sickness, Chagas disease, tuberculosis or other diseases for which no adequate treatment is available and which receive no research funding. This includes tapeworm infections, which are widespread in the tropics, where people live under poor hygienic conditions and in close proximity to animals.
Tapeworms live in the intestines and absorb nutrients from their hosts without doing any major harm, however. Their larvae are much more dangerous: They can migrate to the liver, lung, brain or other organs and form cysts in these tissues which can grow to the size of a handball. These cysts can have severe consequences for the infected persons, such as blindness, epilepsy, liver failure and even death. According to Brehm, no therapy is presently available that reliably kills the dangerous tapeworm larvae.
Award offered by four initiatives
The Memento Award was presented for the third time. The reward is offered by the initiatives Doctors without Borders, Brot für die Welt, the German Leprosy and Tuberculosis Relief Association (DAHW) and BUKO Pharma-Kampagne.
The Memento Research Award is given to people who are strongly committed to the health of neglected patients. Additionally, the Memento Journalist Award goes to persons who make the broad public aware of the topic. The 2016 laureate is Martin Mehringer for his article „Heilung an Bord“ published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper on 1 February 2015.
Prof. Dr. Klaus Brehm, Institute of Hygiene and Microbiology, University of Würzburg, Phone +49 931 31-46168, email@example.com