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Dr. Francisco Morales Yanez and Prof. Serge Muyldermans of the VUB research group Cellular and Molecular Immunology (CMIM), in collaboration with the Antwerp Institute of Tropical Medicine and the Pedro Kouri Institute of Tropical Medicine (Havana, Cuba), have developed a sensitive and specific laboratory test to detect Toxocara canis proteins in humans. The newly-designed tool has enormous potential for the development of other diagnostic strategies against other parasites and other hard-to-diagnose diseases. Morales-Yanez’ research results were published in July in the International Journal for Parasitology.
Toxocariasis is a very cosmopolitan but neglected disease. It is an infectious disease caused by the dog earthworm Toxocara canis that can be transmitted to humans. Children between 2 and 7 years of age are the most affected as they come in contact with the eggs of the parasite, which can be found all over the street and in sandpits. The control of the disease in dogs is extremely difficult because the parasite is transmitted from infected bitches to the offspring during the pregnancy and the puppies are born already infected. Public awareness of the disease is low because the patients usually have mild symptoms, which are easily confused with asthma and allergies.
The research results are relevant for doctors, parasitologists, veterinarians and especially people who come into contact with dogs. The test is considerably more sensitive and specific than previous tests and is based on antibodies of camelids (nanobodies).
Morales Yanez: “The novelty of this research relies on the use of multivalent nanobodies with increased capacity of binding to the parasite proteins. In addition, the system designed at VUB detects not one, but a complex group of proteins that the parasite releases into the tissues of the host.”
Fifteen years ago it was discovered (at the VUB) that camelids not only possess the classical antibodies, but also very specific antibodies that are much smaller from which the main component are easier to produce. These main components, referred to as nanobodies, are also more sustainable, resistant to extreme conditions and easier to engineer into more potent entities. The nanobodies, for example, are used in cancer research. They are now also promising for the diagnosis of diseases that are difficult to diagnose.