The latest Paper of the Month from Parasitology is ‘Haematophagic Caenorhabditis elegans‘ by Veeren M Chauhan and David I Pritchard

Necator americanus, also known as the “American Murderer,” is a parasitic hookworm that thrives in tropical and subtropical soil and is thought to infect more than 10% of the global population (> 700 million people worldwide). It has a talent for piercing skin and feeding on human blood unnoticed for up to 15 years. Heavy Hookworm infections can cause anaemia, fatigue, fever, nausea and abdominal pain that can lead to long-term disability or death.

When N. americanus has entered the host it sheds an immune diversionary sheath, which enables it to travel undetected via the bloodstream through the heart, into the lungs and past the stomach before eventually settling into the intestines, a process that can take up to 6 weeks. This complex hookworm life-cycle, which rely on a host for reproduction, are a significant barrier to the development of therapeutics to prevent and treat infections.

C. elegans feeding on human red blood cells

Friendly free-living nematodes, such as Caenorhabditis elegans, which has a short and easily maintained lifecycle that is independent of its host, may provide an alternative model to study parasitic infections. Specifically, this could accelerate the development of treatment strategies to prevent hookworm disease by reducing the time required from hook reproduction from 6 weeks to 3 days (14x faster).

In this article Dr Veeren Chauhan and Prof David Pritchard, researchers at the School of Pharmacy, University of Nottingham, have shown C. elegans, which usually eats harmless Escherichia coli bacteria in the laboratory, can survive on a diet of human red blood cells – specifically Prof David Pritchard’s red blood cells

They have also shown C. elegans contains enzymes in its gastrointestinal tract, which are also found in hookworms. These enzymes are closely related to vaccine targets in the groundbreaking Human Hookworm Vaccine Initiative. Therefore, these findings indicate that C. elegans could be used as a model for the N. americanus, with the potential to accelerate vaccine research against hookworm and other important parasitic diseases.

Hookworm models produced using C. elegans, with shorter lifecycles, are anticipated to augment parasite study and pave the way forward to replacing, reducing and refining the need for animal and human hosts for therapeutic development.

Read the full article ‘Haematophagic Caenorhabditis elegans‘ for free until December 31st.

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