DNA 'barcodes' for elephantiasis5th May 2009
Lymphatic filariasis, a disease which can cause severe disfigurement, could be prevented through the use of DNA 'barcodes'.
The 'barcodes' could help identifying which mosquitoes are most likely to carry the disease, which threatens around one in six people around the world.
Also known as elephantiasis, the disease is only spread by certain mosquitoes, in more than 80 countries globally.
Short DNA snippets will act to fingerprint the mosquito species that spread the disease, and are being likened to barcodes by scientists.
New research findings on the breakthrough are due to be presented at a June conference in London by researchers led by Professor Daniel Boakye from the University of Ghana.
Boakye said the scientific use of DNA barcoding was shedding new light on lymphatic filariasis, which he called a horrific and entirely preventable health scourge in developing nations.
Elephatiasis is a leading cause of permanent disability worldwide. It is caused by microscopic worms, which are spread via Anopheles mosquitoes, and live in the human bloodstream.
When the larvae grow to maturity, they reproduce within the human host, although symptoms may not appear until years after infection.
Lymphatic filariasis results in the accumulation of fluid, causing swelling in arms, breasts, legs and genitals.
It can also cause permanent damage to lymph systems and kidneys.
The disease thrives in tropical countries with poor sanitation and rapid population growth.
Scientists say they can find a DNA barcode for any living thing, and a World Health Organisation-sponsored programme has been established with the aim of eradicating elephantiasis by 2020.
Two billion doses of a new drug, which reduces the amount of larvae living in the blood, have already been delivered to the areas most at risk.
Low concentration levels of larvae mean the infection cycle is broken, as that mosquito cannot then infect another person with the blood of the person it has already bitten.
Despite these developments in treatment, some species within the 430-strong genus of Anopheles mosquitoes are still able to transmit the disease to vaccinated people, even if their blood contains a low concentration of the larvae.
The DNA barcode helps researchers to identify which continue to act as vectors for the disease, and special insecticides can be used in conjunction with the drug strategy.
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