Genetic engineering turned an ancient parasite into an effective medicine

Ohio University has developed a technology called 21st Century Leishmanization. This word comes from the name of the dangerous parasite Leishmania major, which causes the disease leishmaniasis. Today, it affects up to 2 million people a year, despite the fact that effective counteraction to leishmaniasis has been known for thousands of years. But only in the new era, scientists with the help of editing the genome managed to eliminate its side effects.

The idea is extremely simple - a healthy person is intentionally infected with a parasite so that his immune system can learn to deal with the threat. But this type of vaccination has a huge disadvantage, since the fight against Leishmania is accompanied by severe skin lesions that last for months. Trying to solve this problem, scientists began studying the genome of the parasite and discovered a way to turn it from a threat into a medicine.

For the vital activity of Leishmania, the centrin protein is critically important, without which it sharply weakens, and its physical structure is deformed. Scientists have used the CRISPR tool to identify and remove two separate genes responsible for the production of centrin in the body of the parasite. The modified organism has become a "defective saboteur" that can still enter cells and multiply, but the rest of the time it barely moves and is attacked by the immune system until it dies.

Scientists call a new type of leishmanization ideal. A parasite without the necessary genes is not able to fight back, does no harm to the host's body, while remaining inside for 8-9 months, which is more than enough for the immune system to study it and develop protection. All tests on animals have already been successfully carried out, and testing of a new vaccine in humans will begin soon. And the technology itself will replenish the treasury of world knowledge.