Researchers at the University of Georgia have developed new tools to study and genetically manipulate cryptosporidium, a microscopic parasite that causes the diarrheal disease cryptosporidiosis. Their discoveries, published in the journal Nature, will ultimately help researchers in academia and industry find new treatments and vaccines for cryptosporidium, which is a major cause of disease and death in children under 2 years old.
Crypto, as researchers often call it, is most commonly spread through tainted drinking or recreational water. When a person drinks contaminated water, parasites emerge from spores and invade the lining of the small intestine, causing severe diarrhea. In 1993, more than 400,000 people living in the Milwaukee area were infected with crypto when one of the city's water treatment systems malfunctioned.
The parasite is especially problematic in areas with limited resources, and recent global studies have shown crypto to be one of the most important causes of life-threatening diarrhea in infants and toddlers. There is currently no vaccine and only one drug—nitazoxanide—approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for cryptosporidiosis, but it provides no benefit for those in gravest danger: malnourished children and immunocompromised patients.