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article imageTackling tropical tick disease by stopping cell hopping

By Tim Sandle     Feb 1, 2015 in Science
Researchers have determined how a sometimes deadly tropical parasite, transmitted by ticks, turns healthy cells into cancer-like invasive cells. It is hoped that the new understanding will pave the way for a treatment.
Microscopic Theileria parasites infect the blood of mammals, particularly cattle, causing serious illness. The main target animal is cattle. The tick-borne parasites are capable of infecting white blood cells and then transform them to make them behave like cancer cells.
The parasite is transmitted by various tick species of tick including Rhipicephalus, Dermacentor and Haemaphysalis. The parasite reproduces in the tick as it progresses through its life stages. At present, the main way of preventing cattle from becoming infected is through dipping or spraying cattle to kill the tick vector.
Although the effect of cell transformation has been widely reported, scientists have not, until now, understood the mechanisms at play. A new research study has shown that once the parasite is inside the white blood cell it secretes a special protein, called Pin1. This protein proceeds to re-wire cellular functions. The research was led by Jonathan Weitzman, Director, UMR7216 Epigenetics and Cell Fate, CNRS/Université Paris-Diderot (France).
The research also suggests that an anti-parasite drug could be effective. The trial drug is able to target this protein and reverse the cancer-like state.
The research is of wider interest because common parasitic infections of people also trigger cell transformations, turning normal cells into ‘cancer-like’ cells. One example is schistosomiasis.
The findings have been published in the science journal Nature. The paper is headed “Theileria parasites secrete a prolyl isomerase to maintain host leukocyte transformation.”
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