Guelph Team Discovers Treatment for Water-Borne Disease

September 17, 2008 - News Release

University of Guelph scientists believe they've uncovered a promising treatment for one of the world's most common water-borne diseases. They discovered that an antibody used to detect the parasite Cryptosporidium parvum, which causes cryptosporidiosis, can also be used to fight off the bug itself.

The findings by a team of Guelph environmental biology professors were recently published in the microbiology journal Antonie van Leeuwenhoek.

The researchers had set out to find a better way to detect a nasty intestinal bug responsible for the illness that has sickened thousands of people in several parts of Canada and the United States during the past two decades.
They ended up finding that specially engineered recombinant antibodies used to detect the parasite can also prevent the bug from physically binding to human intestinal cells, blocking infection.

Cryptosporidium parvum is transmitted through drinking water contaminated by the feces of infected animals. Proper water and sewage treatment and filtration as well as correct disposal of animal waste normally prevent the disease from spreading, said Prof. Jack Trevors, one of the study's authors.

In healthy people, the parasite causes severe diarrhea, abdominal cramping and fever for a week or two. In very young or very old people or in immune-compromised individuals, the symptoms may be more severe and chronic and may cause death.

Thousands of people were sickened in a outbreak in North Battleford, Sask., in 2001, Milwaukee in 1993 and Kelowna, B.C., in 1996. Another 1996 outbreak in Collingwood, Ont., led health authorities to make cryptosporidiosis a reportable disease.

No effective therapy exists for treating cryptosporidiosis.

"Cryptosporidiosis may not be a big disease like cancer," said study co-author Prof. Hung Lee. "On the other hand, if you don't know the cause of a disease, you can't really prevent it properly."

He added that the hope is other researchers will use their work to develop a treatment based on using antibodies. "Potentially we could also use this new approach to address other intestinal infections."

The research team also included Prof. Chris Hall and former graduate students Nicholas Pokorny and Jeanine Boulter-Bitzer. The Guelph researchers hope to learn more about how the antibody binds to the parasite.

Their work was supported by the Canadian Water Network, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, and the Ontario Ministry of the Environment.


Prof. Jack Trevors
Department of Environmental Biology
519 824-4120, Ext. 53367

Prof. Hung Lee
Department of Environmental Biology
519 824-4120, Ext. 53828

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519-824-4120, Ext. 53338/, or Deirdre Healey, Ext. 56982/

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