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Communicating science: Raffi Van Aroian studies parasites in humans

By Bryan Goodchild and Kaylee Pugliese

UMass Chan Medical School Communications

February 28, 2022

Raffi Van Aroian, PhD, professor of molecular medicine, studies intestinal parasitic nematodes, or worms. He said these are the most common parasites of humans and animals around the world.

“An estimated 1.5 billion people are infected with intestinal worms like ascarids and hookworms,” Dr. Aroian said.

Children are the most seriously affected by these parasites, which cause growth stunting, cognitive stunting and malnutrition, and result in a decrease in education and future earning potential.

“Freeing them of these parasites will free a tremendous human resource around the world and relieve suffering and poverty around the world as well,” he said.

There is only one class of drugs scientists use to treat these parasites in humans and that’s a problem, said Aroian.

“It’s already known that the parasites carry resistance alleles to these drugs, so it’s only a matter of time before we lose control of the situation,” he said.

Aroian works closely with Gary R. Ostroff, PhD, professor of molecular medicine, on this research.

The Aroian and Ostroff labs are dedicated to developing new drugs and therapeutics to work against these parasites and their infections and deleterious effects. The scientists use concepts of natural biological control and high throughput small molecule drug screening to identify and develop new drugs for use against these parasitic infections.

“We’re also studying how different drugs can be combined, so that we can either delay or perhaps even prevent the development of resistance and allow humankind and animal kind who suffer from these parasites to live healthier, better and more fulfilling lives,” he said.

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Communicating science: Yang Wang discusses drug resistance in COVID-19
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Communicating science: Sharon Cantor discusses drug resistance in breast, ovarian cancer