Genomics gives new insights into leprosy

A former leprosy patient in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Copyright: WHO/P. Virot

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Researchers have identified which genes are ‘turned on’ in different forms of leprosy. Their findings may help diagnose and treat the disease, which affects half a million people, mainly in developing countries.

The severity of leprosy depends partly on how a person’s immune system responds to the bacterium that causes the disease, Mycobacterium leprae. In this week’s issue of Science, an international team of scientists report that they have identified the genes behind these varying immune responses.

The authors say that their data support the view that modern genomics can reveal the sets of genes that correlate with immune responses leading to disease progression and tolerance. “Genomics can provide unanticipated insights into pathogenesis and targets for therapy,” they write.

Link to research paper in Science

Reference: Science 301, 1527 (2003)