Researchers Map Genes of Parasite That Increases Risk for Women To Contract HIV, Study Says
Researchers from the U.S. and United Kingdom might have mapped the genetic code of the parasite Trichomonas vaginalis, which causes millions of sexually transmitted infections annually and increases women's risk of contracting HIV, according to a study published in the Jan. 12 issue of the journal Science, BBC News reports (BBC News, 1/12). Jane Carlton, a parasite specialist at the Institute for Genomic Research and lead author of the study, said both sexes can transmit the parasite. It raises women's risk of contracting HIV by altering the lining of the vagina to allow for easier transmission, the AP/USA Today reports. Trichomonas vaginalis also increases the likelihood of an HIV-positive person transmitting the virus (Neergaard, AP/USA Today, 1/12). Carlton and a team of 66 researchers in 10 countries recorded the structure of the parasite. The researchers found that Trichomonas vaginalis has nearly 26,000 confirmed genes, almost as many as the human genome. There are only two drugs, both in the same class, approved for treating Trichomonas vaginalis infections, and the parasite already is resistant to one of the drugs in many cases, researchers said (Fox, Reuters, 1/11). Study co-author Robert Hirt of Newcastle University said that the study already had produced large numbers of genetic areas which might prove useful to doctors looking for potential targets for drugs. "While many cases of [T]richomonas [vaginalis] can be dealt with easily, there is between a 2% and 5% resistance to the current drugs, so we need to find alternatives," Hirt said, adding, "We hope that the information we've produced will help to do that" (BBC News, 1/12). Anthony Fauci -- director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which funded the study -- said the research "is a very strong step in the right direction with regard to a parasite we still have not fully appreciated." About 170 million people worldwide are estimated to be infected with Trichomonas vaginalis (AP/USA Today, 1/11).
An abstract of the study is available online.