BEIJING, May 2 (Xinhua) -- Chinese researchers have identified two new risk gene variants that are responsible for leprosy.
The findings have been published in the American Journal of Human Genetics.
The research, led by Yao Yonggang from the Chinese Academy of Sciences Kunming institute of zoology, was based on a study involving 1,433 patients with leprosy and 1,625 healthy individuals from southwest China's Yunnan Province.
More than 30 risk genes affecting susceptibility to leprosy have been identified. The research team has identified and validated two new rare damaging variants in HIF1A and LACC1 genes that can increase risk of developing the disease.
Leprosy is a chronic infectious disease which can cause nerve damage, leading to muscle weakness and atrophy, and permanent disability. Leprosy patients also suffer from discrimination.
In 2011, China announced plans to eradicate the disease by 2020.
China had reduced incidence of the disease to less than 1 case per 10,000 people in 1981, but leprosy remains a major problem in some rural areas in southwest China.
As of the end of 2016, more than 50,000 people with leprosy had been cured in Yunnan Province.
The number of new cases reported in the province accounts for about one fourth of the country's total. It still has 44 counties with serious leprosy problems.
According to the China Leprosy Association, nearly 480,000 people have been given free treatment and cured over the past half century, and now only 6,000 people suffer from the disease in the whole country.