Scientists Unearth Secrets of a Cancer-Causing Parasite

Scientists Unearth Secrets of a Cancer-Causing Parasite

Scientists Unearth Secrets of a Cancer-Causing Parasite

Scientists Unearth Secrets of a Cancer-Causing Parasite

by Dr. Andi Horvath, University of Melbourne

A groundbreaking study has made headway in the scientific community, as researchers successfully sequenced the genome and characterised the genes of the Asian liver fluke, Opisthorchis viverrini. This pernicious parasite is known to cause diseases that plague millions of individuals across Asia and is directly linked with a lethal form of bile duct cancer.

This significant discovery has been officially published in the renowned journal, Nature Communications.

The study’s leading investigators, Dr. Neil Young and Professor Robin Gasser from the University of Melbourne, collaborated with a team of global experts, including Dr. Niranjan Nagarajan and Patrick Tan from the Genome Institute of Singapore. Together, they managed to assemble and characterise the largest parasitic worm genome ever studied.

Dr. Young shared his insights, remarking, "This study provides insight into how the fluke survives the hostile environment within the human bile duct, and provides further evidence that these parasites release proteins that directly alter human tissue."

This malicious parasite, transmitted by snails and fish, infects humans, cats, and dogs through the consumption of raw fish. It makes its way to the liver and bile duct, inflicting a variety of chronic liver and gall bladder diseases, including cancer.

Prof. Gasser underscored the importance of the study, stating, "Research on the fluke is crucial to comprehend how the parasite thrives in the bile ducts of the liver. Presently, no vaccine exists and only one drug is available to combat the infection.

"Our new genome resource will underpin profound explorations of cancer-causing parasites, potentially leading to breakthroughs in the development of new treatments against parasites and parasite-induced cancers."

Opisthorchis viverrini Genome: Unveiling Secrets of Life in the Bile Duct


Opisthorchiasis, a neglected tropical disease, is caused by the carcinogenic Asian liver fluke, Opisthorchis viverrini. This hepatobiliary disease is associated with malignant cancer (cholangiocarcinoma, CCA) and affects millions of people in Asia. At present, no vaccine is available, and praziquantel is the only drug used against the parasite. Little is known about O. viverrini biology and the diseases it causes. In this study, we characterize the draft genome (634.5 Mb) and transcriptomes of O. viverrini, shedding light on how this fluke survives in the harsh environment within the bile duct. We also demonstrate that the metabolic pathways in the parasite are highly adapted to a lipid-rich diet from bile and/or cholangiocytes. Furthermore, we present additional evidence that O. viverrini and other flukes secrete proteins that directly modulate host cell proliferation. Our molecular resources now underpin profound explorations of opisthorchiasis/CCA and the design of new interventions.


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