Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Insight into immunity against diarrhoea-causing parasite Cryptosporidium

31 August 2019

Role Models

A water-borne parasite with a global reach, Cryptosporidium is a leading cause of diarrhoea, particularly severe or even fatal in young children and patients with weakened immune systems. Those who overcome the disease develop some resistance to the parasites, suggesting that vaccination could be an effective solution. Yet vaccine development has been fraught with difficulty, partly because mice, our most popular animal models for disease, are resistant to the parasites infecting humans. However, they're naturally vulnerable to a closely-related species, Cryptosporidium tyzzeri (pictured, in red, in a mouse intestine), and, while mice don’t suffer from diarrhoea as we do, infection with C. tyzzeri otherwise closely mirrors disease progression in humans. Most importantly, mice that survive infection, or are treated with parasites weakened by radiation, also become less susceptible to subsequent challenges, providing a valuable opportunity to investigate resistance to Cryptosporidium and refine the development of potentially life-saving vaccines.

Written by Emmanuelle Briolat

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