After four decades of scientific research by around 50 researchers dedicated to the study of cysticercosis and the parasites that cause it, the team of specialists from the Biomedical Research Institute (IIBm) of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) developed the tools to eradicate this disease.

Laclette San Román, emeritus researcher at the UNAM, explained that they propose two mechanisms: vaccination (they have two versions, one developed in the IIBm and another in Australia) and mass treatment.

Currently, the problem of cysticercosis in the country is less serious than in previous decades. According to the Ministry of Health, official records indicate that the cases decreased from 564 in 1988, to 239 in 2015.

But “in rural areas it is still considerable,” said Laclette San Román. The researchers are not only thinking about fighting cysticercosis in Mexico, as according to Laclette San Román , “the issue is much greater in nations like Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and several [countries] in Africa.”

It would be desirable to test the eradication campaign in three states of the country, such as Morelos, Michoacán and Guerrero, where they have worked for years to be areas of high consumption of contaminated pork meat, said Alfonso Escobar Izquierdo, another collaborator in the researcher.

Teniasis and cysticercosis

Teniasis is an intestinal infection caused by adult tapeworm (Taenia solium), which is transmitted to humans by ingesting larval cysts (cysticercos) present in undercooked pork.

Human carriers excrete cysticercoids in feces and pollute the environment when they defecate outdoors, as occurs in marginalized areas with unhealthy conditions.

After ingestion, the eggs of T. solium become larvae in various organs of the human body, and when they reach the central nervous system they can cause neurological symptoms (neurocysticercosis), in particular epilepsy.

Until now, the UNAM experts have effective substances against the adult worm and efficient diagnostic methods to detect the infection.

Scientific model

Cysticercosis is a model for Mexican science. I can’t think of many examples of national science where such a spectacular level of growth and development has been achieved,” Laclette said.

Laclette, their colleagues and graduate students know cysticercosis-causing parasites in detail and from various edges: they know how they are morphologically, they know their molecular composition, they have deciphered their genome and today they are going through a postgenomic era. They investigate precisely, for example, the protein composition of the parasites to know how many are specific to the parasite and how many they obtain from the host organism (be it a pig or a human).

This year we published an article where we describe a mathematical model that allows tracking the dynamics of transmission; that is, we can know how many humans have taeniasis, how many cysticercosis and what is the reason for the transmission. It is a model that accurately describes the dynamics of tapeworms and cysticercos,” Laclette said.

The mathematical model proposes the indicators that must be tracked to conduct a campaign to control and eradicate these parasites.