new study published in Nature Genetics, led by a team of researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, reveals that the hookworm’s genome has been decoded.

 The scientists, including Drs. Peter Hotez and Bin Zhan of the Sabin Vaccine Institute and Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development, focused on how different hookworm genes are responsible for invading humans, feeding on human blood and bypassing the host’s immune system. Other discoveries include pinpointing genes that could be potential targets for vaccines and new drug treatments.

As senior author Makedonka Mitreva, PhD, assistant professor of medicine and genetics and a member of The Genome Institute at the School of Medicine, commented in a Washington University in St. Louis press release, “This information will accelerate development of new diagnostic tools and vaccine against the infection.”

These findings – with the potential to lead to new advancements – are welcome given how human hookworm, a neglected tropical disease (NTD), plagues nearly 700 million of the world’s poorest people.

Hookworm disproportionately affects pregnant women and children in sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America. Left untreated, hookworm causes internal blood loss leading to iron-deficiency anemia and malnutrition. Hookworm also contributes to physical and cognitive impairment, poor school performance and attendance, and low birth weights.

Fortunately, the Sabin Vaccine Institute Product Development Partnership (Sabin PDP) is working on the world’s first and only hookworm vaccine development effort.

Last fall, we announced that HOOKVAC, a consortium of global partners across the United States, Europe, and sub-Saharan Africa, with funding from the European Commission FP7 programme, will build on previous clinical development by beginning the first clinical testing of the human hookworm vaccine in the West African nation of Gabon.

With greater understanding of hookworm, we hope that we can bring about cutting edge ways to reduce the global burden of diseases affecting the world’s poorest people.