Scientists discovered a British man who lived for at least four years with a rare tapeworm in his brain. The host was a 50-year-old Chinese man living in the UK. The worm is called Spirometra erinaceieuropaei and is one parasite responsible for a disease called sparganosis, which results in inflammation of body tissue. Moreover researchers believe the new information they have gathered from the sequencing may lead to new treatments for the infection.
The patient complained of various neurological symptoms including seizures as well as a progressive pain on his right side, which turned out to be a tapeworm burrowing from one side of his brain to the other. Spirometra erinaceieuropaei had never been seen before in Britain, and only 300 cases have been reported worldwide since 1953.
Doctors at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge recovered the tapeworm during an exploratory operation after an MRI scan had indicated that something worm-like could be behind the patient’s deteriorating condition.
Writing in the Genome Biology Journal, scientists revealed that the patient went to hospital in 2008 suffering from headaches, seizures, altered smell ability, memory flashbacks and problems, plus increasing pain on his right-hand side. Over the next four years he was tested for numerous diseases including HIV, tuberculosis, lime disease and syphilis after MRI scans showed lesions in his brain.
“For this uncharted group of tapeworms this is the first genome to be sequenced and has allowed us to make some predictions about the likely activity of known drugs,”
said Dr Matt Berriman, from the Sanger Institute.
“The genome sequence suggests that the parasite is naturally resistant to albendazole – an existing anti-tapeworm drug.
“However, many new drug targets that are being explored for other tapeworms are present in this parasite and could offer future clinical possibilities.”
Through investigating specific parts of the genome for sensitivity to known tapeworm treatments, the researchers found that the tapeworm had genes providing resistance to benzimidazole, but possible sensitivity to another tapeworm drug praziquantel. The team also investigated the genome to find potential targets which could be exploited by drugs already on the market but known for treating other diseases. They found a number of genes which are targets for known cancer drugs, suggesting that these treatments could be re-purposed for treating this type of infection.
The tapeworm is thought to be caught by eating small infected crustaceans from lakes, eating raw amphibian or reptile meat, or by using a raw frog poultice which is a Chinese remedy for sore eyes.
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