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Chinese scientists make headway in leprosy prevention

(Xinhua)

08:42, January 30, 2012

JINAN, Jan. 29 (Xinhua) -- Chinese scientists said Sunday that they have identified ten susceptibility genes for leprosy to date, a finding that will help identify high-risk individuals and aid in the prevention of the infectious disease.

A research team from the Shandong Provincial Institute of Dermatology and Venereology in east China recently discovered a new susceptibility gene for leprosy based on a long-term study of more than 20,000 cases, said Zhang Furen, leader of the research team.

Nine other susceptibility genes were found by Zhang's team and two other research teams in 2009 and 2011, respectively.

Leprosy, an infectious disease that has afflicted mankind for over 4,000 years, is primarily characterized by skin lesions and progressive physical disability, and can cause permanent nerve damage.

"Our research showed that nearly a quarter of the leprosy patients we surveyed have a family history of leprosy," said Zhang.

In the course of their research, Zhang and his team discovered several cases in which people who had close contact with leprosy patients were not infected, leading them to conclude that both physical contact and genetic predisposition play a role in infection, Zhang explained.

Zhang said it is more effective to prescribe drug therapy for high-risk individuals who are found to have the susceptibility genes, rather than simply give drugs to all individuals who have come into contact with leprosy patients.

"The ten susceptibility genes we have found are relevant to the body's innate immunity," said Zhang. "Due to a deficiency of the innate immune system, people who carry the susceptibility genes are likely to suffer from the disease."

More susceptibility genes are expected to be found in future, Zhang added.

"Our study has opened up new methods for leprosy prevention and we will continue to conduct research in this area," said Zhang.

A total of 500,000 cases of leprosy have been reported and treated since the founding of the People's Republic of China on Oct. 1, 1949. More than 200,000 new cases are reported worldwide every year, with China being home to about one-tenth of the world's infected population.

China plans to decrease leprosy rates by 50 percent over the next 10 years, according to an infectious disease prevention plan issued by the Ministry of Health in 2011.

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Canada at 2012-01-3070.36.49.*
Great news. Che would have been happy!
  

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