Chinese scientists make headway in leprosy prevention

Chinese scientists make headway in leprosy preventionBeijing, Jan 30 - Chinese scientists have claimed to have identified 10 susceptibility genes for leprosy to date, a finding that will help identify high-risk individuals and aid in the prevention of the infectious disease.

Over 200,000 new cases are reported worldwide annually, with China being home to about one-tenth of the world's infected population, Xinhua reported.

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 over 20,000 cases, said Zhang Furen, leader of the research team Sunday.

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 characterised 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.

Zhang and his team during their research 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, said Zhang.

Zhang said it is more effective to prescribe drug therapy for high-risk individuals, found to have the susceptibility genes, than simply give drugs to all individuals coming 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. (IANS)