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[BEIJING] Chinese scientists have identified thousands of proteins that are crucial to a parasitic worm that infects more than a million people in China and parts of South-East Asia.

The findings could help researchers develop drugs or vaccines against the worm, Schistosoma japonicum, which causes a form of schistosomiasis.

A team led by Han Zeguang of the Chinese National Human Genome Center in Shanghai published the research in the April issue of PLoS Pathogens.

The researchers identified more than 3,200 proteins that are essential for the parasite's growth, metabolism and transition through the various stages of its life cycle.

Many of the proteins are produced on the parasite's outer surface, suggesting they play a role in its ability to infect and harm people.

Some of the proteins are similar to human proteins, which could help the parasite evade detection by the human immune system.

Han's team, which mapped the parasite's genetic code two years ago, is now trying to identify which proteins could be good targets for new drugs or vaccines.

Schistosoma infections are currently treated with a drug called praziquantel, but there is no effective vaccine.

Other research groups will be able to access Han's team's data on his institution's website, international public databases and the open-access website of PLoS Pathogens.

Han told SciDev.Net that drug developers should avoid targeting some of the parasite's proteins because they vary so much in structure.

Schistosoma japonicum has been spreading across China in recent years. About one million people in the country are infected. The parasite is also found in parts of Indonesia and the Philippines.

Related Schistosoma parasites infect a total of 200 million people in 76 countries.

Link to full paper in PLoS Pathogens

Reference: PLoS Pathogens 2, e29 (2006)

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