Learning from camels

Published: Friday 15 January 1999

  Eye to eye: Contagious river (Credit: AP /PTI) omani scientists believe that camels may hold a clue to a treatment for river blindness, a debilitating disease that affects millions of people each year in the developing world. Immunological studies by Oman's Suhan Qaboos University researchers show that the camels have a highly-evolved immune system which allows them to combat a parasite very similar to the river blindness-causing filarial worm Onchocerca volvulus , which causes river blindness in humans.

Eugene Johnson, who is leading the research, told Oman's English Observer newspaper: "The camel has a very unique protective measures to get rid of the parasite. We are studying their immune systems to get an insight into how we may stimulate the human immune system to do something similar." The team hopes their findings will lead to the discovery of a vaccine against the disease, said Johnson. River blindness is the world's second largest cause of infectious blindness, afflicting over 20 million people. Although 95 per cent of all cases occur in east and west Africa, the parasite is also endemic in Latin America and parts of the Yemen.

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