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Archive - May 26, 2009

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Maturation Chemical May Fight Parasitic Worm Infections

A chemical that causes certain parasitic worms, including hookworms, to pass from the infective larval stage to the feeding larval stage may prove useful in reducing the risk posed by these worms throughout the world. The chemical is dafachronic acid and it sends the necessary signals for the worms to mature from the stage in which they infect a host to the stage in which they start feeding on the host, which is what makes the host sick. In this study, researchers treated hookworm parasites pharmacologically at the infective larval stage with dafachronic acid, causing them to pass into the feeding larval stage outside a host, where they had no food supply and died. Treatment of other infectious species had similar effects. Dr. David Mangelsdorf, the senior author of the study, said that the next step in the research is to screen large libraries of chemicals to search for compounds that behave like dafachronic acid and that could possibly be developed into pesticides that could be spread in high-infection areas. Many infectious nematode larvae live in the soil, often in areas where proper sanitation is lacking. According to the World Health Organization, parasitic nematodes infect about 2 billion people worldwide and severely sicken some 300 million, at least 50 percent of whom are school-age children. This report on dafachronic acid will be available online in PNAS and in an upcoming article in the journal. [Press release]

Folic Acid Consumption May Reduce Risk of Early Preterm Births

Folic acid consumption for a year or more before conception is associated with a 50%–70% decrease in early (but not late) spontaneous preterm births and the longer a woman takes folic acid supplements before becoming pregnant, the lower her risk of a preterm birth. These are the conclusions of researchers reporting recently in PLoS Medicine. The findings are particularly significant because premature babies (born before 37 weeks of completed pregnancy) are more likely to die than full-term babies and many have short- and/or long-term health problems. The severity of these health problems depends on the degree of prematurity—preterm babies born between 34 and 36 weeks of pregnancy rarely develop severe disabilities, but a quarter of babies born before 28 weeks of pregnancy develop serious lasting disabilities and half have learning and behavioral problems. The researchers noted the folic acid consumption itself may not be the causative factor as it may be a marker for a healthier lifestyle in general. Nevertheless, they said, the results suggest that long-term folic acid supplementation before conception is worth investigating further as a potential way to prevent preterm births. [PLoS Medicine article]