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September 14, 2006

Parasite Experts Gather in Woods Hole To Share Discoveries that Could Help Cure Parasitic Diseases

MBL, Woods Hole, MA, USA—The MBL, an international biological research center in Massachusetts on Cape Cod, was crawling this week with hundreds of experts on human parasites that cause global infectious diseases, which are a leading cause of death worldwide.

Over four hundred scientists from the United States, Europe, Australia, South America, and Southeast Asia gathered at the MBL for the Molecular Parasitology Meeting, an annual event that brings together the top researchers, postdocs, and graduate students in the field of molecular parasitology.

The purpose of the meeting is to share the latest findings on the inner workings of parasites such as those that cause malaria, African sleeping sickness, Chagas disease, and toxoplasmosis.

Understanding how these organisms work is critical to developing replacements for drugs to which these parasites have become resistant, as well as the creation of better drugs with fewer side effects.

Highlights of the conference include the unveiling of key findings in the quest for understanding how certain parasites become more virulent. Specifically, scientists identified cellular proteins that help make malaria and toxoplasmosis more infectious to humans.

“These molecules could be potential drug targets, “ said one of the meeting’s organizers, Meg Phillips, of the University of Texas Southwestern, Dallas.

The keynote speech, delivered by Dyann Wirth, a well-known infectious disease expert at Harvard School of Public Health, highlighted the importance of genes and genomics to parasitology research.

In recent years the genomes of many key parasites have been sequenced, advancing this science by leaps and bounds by enabling scientists to do more targeted research.

The MBL is a natural location for this kind of meeting. It is renowned for its advanced-level Biology of Parasitism summer course, the only course to provide rigorous training in this specialized research area. Many of the scientists attending the Molecular Parasitology Meeting launched their careers in this MBL course.

Understanding parasites at the molecular level is critical to saving lives around the globe, where people regularly die from parasitic diseases. “The problem is getting worse, not better, “ says conference organizer Andy Waters, a researcher from LUMC in the Netherlands. “Molecular parasitology is a very important field. “

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The MBL is an international, independent, nonprofit institution dedicated to improving the human condition through creative research and education in the biological, biomedical and environmental sciences. Founded in 1888 as the Marine Biological Laboratory, the MBL is the oldest private marine laboratory in the Western Hemisphere. For more information or to join the MBL Associates, visit www.MBL.edu