Nematode worms are one of the most successful groups of animals in terms of absolute biomass and the occupation of a diverse range of habitats.
The majority of nematodes are free-living, feeding on microorganisms, but a significant number are parasites of animals or plants. Nematode parasites of humans make a substantial contribution to the global burden of disease, with a handful of nematode species annually accounting for some 46 million disability adjusted life years (DALYs). Nematode infections also have a major impact on the health and welfare of livestock, and in many regions threaten the viability of animal farming. Although there are effective treatments for nematode infections (anthelmintics), there are global increases in the number and distribution of strains that are resistant to these drugs; in some livestock populations multiple drug resistant nematodes have been encountered resulting in "total anthelmintic failure". There is thus a pressing need to develop novel anti-nematode therapeutics.
Ideal targets for the development of new therapeutics would be molecules and processes that are found only in nematodes, but are absent from the hosts that they infect. Furthermore, such a target will be found in all nematodes enabling the development of a drug active against a broad range of nematode infections.
Our studies on C. elegans have allowed us to identify a novel process which fulfils these requirements, and we have developed a robust, fluorescence-based assay which can be used to screen for new drugs targeting this process; we are currently screening a number of compound libraries to identify suitable starting points for the development of the next generation of selective anthelmintic drugs, for the treatment and prevention of human, animal and crop infections / infestations.
Project Team: Dr Jonathon Pettitt, Dr Berndt Müller, Dr Bernadette Connolly
Funding: Donations from Roemex Ltd, Knowledge Exchange and Transfer Fund