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UWI Scientists receive Letters Patent as inventors of Medicaments for the treatment of threadworms

Scientists at The University of the West Indies Mona Campus have received Letters Patent as inventors of a new medical substance for the Treatment of Threadworms (Strongyloides stercoralis) Infections in animals and humans.  This is the first successful patent application that has been wholly undertaken and forwarded by academic staff and research students with assistance from the Office of Sponsored Research at the UWI Mona Campus. The scientists are Dr. Wayne Forbes currently a post-doctoral Research Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, School of Veterinary Medicine, USA, Dr. Ralph Robinson, Head of the Department of Life Sciences, Professor Paul Reese of the Department of Chemistry. 

Threadworms are intestinal worms that infect more than one hundred million (100M) persons worldwide.  Chronic, usually asymptomatic infections result in the majority of otherwise healthy individuals, but in immuno-compromised or severely malnourished persons inordinate multiplication of the parasite follows with dissemination of larvae and adult worms to virtually all organs of the body. This is a grave and often lethal condition. The situation is worsened since infections are not easily diagnosed, and treatment with ethically prescribed pharmaceuticals is met with problems of poor efficacy and harmful side effects.

In Jamaican folklore, extracts of plants are commonly used as anti-worm concoctions.  In fact, plants in the form of juices and teas have been used for treating human maladies since ancient times.  This backdrop, in addition to preliminary studies conducted by other scientists at the UWI hinted at the anti-worm activity of some of our local plants. To verify the earlier claims a study was launched to scientifically screen extracts of twenty five (25) medicinal plants using thread worms as the test organism.

Following two years of investigations in the early 1990s and armed with grant funding from the Scientific Research Council of Jamaica (SRC), Wayne Forbes (then a Scientific Officer at SCR and a UWI graduate student) and Dr. Robinson, identified Spirit Weed as a potential anti-threadworm agent.  Professor Paul Reese joined the team in 1996 to oversee chemical isolation and characterization of several active components of the plant. Laboratory testing of the purified substances by Professor Reese confirmed the presence of one substance that possessed surprisingly rapid activity and potency against the parasites.  In fact, the efficacy of this compound proved to be significantly higher compared with those of commercially available agents used against thread worms.

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