Scientists discover genetic code for parasite that can cause bile duct cancer

SINGAPORE - A recent biological discovery made by a global team of scientists, including those from Singapore, could help in the treatment for bile duct cancer in the future.

The international team of scientists from Singapore, Thailand, China and Australia mapped the genetic code of a cancer-causing parasite known as opisthorchis viverrini.

They did this using a unique DNA analysis technique developed at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research's (A*Star) Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS), the agency announced on Wednesday.

Through the mapping of the genetic code of the parasite - which significantly raises the risk of cholangiocarcinoma or bile duct cancer - researchers aim to better understand its molecular pathways, which is the series of actions that take place among molecules in a cell.

This will enable scientists to identify new biological markers which could potentially be developed into tools that can diagnose the disease, or into treatment methods for parasite-specific diseases.

The international collaboration was led by Dr Niranjan Nagarajan and Professor Patrick Tan from GIS, Dr Neil Young and Professor Robin Gasser from Australia's University of Melbourne, and others from Thailand and China.

"This study gives deep new insights into the life of a parasitic fluke in the human bile duct, and was enabled by the development of an exciting new genome assembly tool called OPERA-LG in our lab. It has allowed us to assemble and characterise the largest parasitic worm genome studied to date," said Dr Nagarajan.