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RESEARCH AND FOLKLORE: Wayne Forbes, assistant professor of biology at Slippery Rock University, has earned a U.S. patent for his research that could lead to development of a drug to cure threadworm.

SRU's Forbes earns patent
for indigenous medicine work

SLIPPERY ROCK, PA. - Sometimes there is just enough truth in folklore and home remedies on which a serious scientist can base a cure. Such is the case for Wayne Forbes, assistant professor of biology at Slippery Rock University, who has been awarded a U.S. Patent for his isolation of a compound that kills an often-fatal intestinal parasitic roundworm called "threadworm."

This parasite, formally known as Strongyloides stercoralis, is commonly found throughout the tropics.

"It was exciting work," Forbes said after learning his patent application had been granted by the U.S. Patent Office late last month. "The patent is for work done by my colleagues and me, as principal inventor, while at the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, in Jamaica," he said.

His research colleagues were Ralph Robinson and Paul B. Reese, both of Kingston, Jamaica.

Forbes joined the SRU faculty in 2003. He earned his doctorate in zoology and bachelor of sciences degree in zoology and botany at UWI in Jamaica.

"We took plants used in folklore for treating intestinal roundworm infections in the Caribbean and other tropical regions, and identified and isolated the potent antiworm compound called eryngial (Trans-2-dodecenal) from spirit weed (Eryngium foetidum), the most effective plant of the lot," he said.

"The next step is to find a pharmaceutical company willing to take on the major research of determining the effects of the compound on human and other mammalian subjects, and taking the compound public," he said.

Forbes points out that pharmaceutical research could lead to the development of a synthetic compound that would mimic the original compound's properties. The data indicate that millions of people, mostly in tropical regions, suffer from strongyloidiasis and success of the compound could be very profitable for the pharmaceutical taking on the work.

The patent application notes: This invention relates to killing of nematodes (round worms and more particularly to treatment of infections caused by parasitic nematodes).

Forbes said people often walk around barefooted in tropical regions, thus allowing infection by threadworm upon skin contact. The infection can be long-lived, more than 30 years, and asymptomatic in otherwise healthy individuals. However, the worms rapidly multiply in sick and/or immunosuppressed/compromised persons leading to hyperinfections.