Judy Teale, Ph.D., a microbiology professor, is striving
to develop better treatments for neurocysticercosis, a disease caused by
an intestinal parasite that infiltrates the brain and nervous system.
intestinal parasite that has long existed in areas of Mexico and nations
to the south is now making its way across the border with more
an infection cycle that includes infiltration of the brain and nervous
system, the resulting disease, neurocysticercosis, has caught the
attention of researcher Judy Teale,
Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Microbiology at the
Health Science Center.
Teale is working to determine the effects of current treatments for the
disease and the role of certain cells in immune response, with the goal
of developing better medicines.
begins with the ingestion of parasitic eggs that eventually result in
the infection of the brain and central nervous system by larvae.
Patients suffering from neurocysticercosis vary in terms of symptoms.
Some are asymptomatic and the disease is not even found until the
patients have died. Others exhibit a variety of maladies, including
headaches, nausea and seizures.
upon the length of infection and the location of the parasitic larvae,
patients also may suffer more life-threatening conditions, including
increased pressure on the brain.
initial parasitic infection is largely the result of poor hygiene during
food preparation and inadequate sanitary conditions. The disease is
normally seen in Third World countries where standards in food
preparation and sanitation are lower. But as people migrate from Mexico
into the United States, local hospitals are seeing more and more cases
of neurocysticercosis. University Hospital now treats several cases a
is the most common parasitic disease of the central nervous system
worldwide,” Dr. Teale said. “It is a really serious problem.”
The larvae of the parasitic brain disease develops and
lives inside this fluid-filled bladder sac. The smaller sac (left)
represents one of normal size while the larger sac, which is more than 9
cm in length, if found in some patients. The large sac weaves in and out
of spaces within the brain and can cause severe symptoms.
research has been conducted on this life-threatening disease. Current
treatments, including anti-helminthic drugs (which have the power to
destroy or expel intestinal worms), have been known to cause adverse
side effects and additional problems for patients instead of alleviating
Teale has been working to define the brain’s immune response following
treatment with the anti-helminthic drugs, including what cells are
involved and what those cells secrete. She has determined that one
particular type of cell, the gamma delta T-cell, is involved in
controlling the infection in animal models, but research will continue
to determine exactly what this cell does.
is the kind of cell that infiltrates—a massive infiltration—and it
seems to be involved in controlling the infection in animals,” Dr.
Teale said. “So we are doing studies to figure out the exact role of
these gamma delta T-cells.”
Teale said prevention is key in stopping the spread of
neurocysticercosis. The old adage warning tourists to steer clear of the
drinking water in many foreign countries may not be the only caution to
remember when traveling. Fruits and vegetables, which become
contaminated with parasite eggs during the fertilization process, also
should be under scrutiny and should be washed thoroughly. Preferably,
salads should be avoided and fruits should be peeled prior to eating.
Strawberries are a particular risk.
is becoming more and more of a problem in the U.S.,” Dr. Teale said.
“In some areas of the United States, physicians are not used to seeing
it, and it will take a lot longer to diagnose and treat.”