Innovation

Infection Breakthrough 2016: Scientists Find 1 Drug To Treat 3 Deadly Parasitic Infections

Scientists have just made a discovery that could save more than 50,000 lives each year. Chagas, sleeping sickness, and leishmaniasis —  which have been called "neglected tropical diseases” —  currently affect tens of millions of people, mostly in the world’s poorest countries, but they could all be a thing of the past.

Scientists have just published a study unveiling findings that could lead to a single treatment for these illnesses. Currently, treatments exist for all three diseases, caused by parasites, but they aren’t reliable. Aside from not working well, these remedies are also expensive and cause side effects. So, what is this discovery that could help eliminate the deadly diseases? Scientists found a common enzyme in all three parasites, and then developed a chemical that targets it to prevent them from functioning. A human trial for one drug that could treat all three diseases has not started yet, but mice have tolerated it well.

Chagas, sleeping sickness and leishmaniasis are all caused by an infection from parasites, which means that the trio shares a similar genetic profile. Trypanosomiasis, commonly known as sleeping sickness, is the most deadly of these tropical diseases and can be fatal if left untreated. Additionally, over 120 million people are at risk from Chagas disease and 300,000 new cases occur every year.

"It's a breakthrough in our understanding of the parasites that cause the three diseases, potentially allowing them to be cured," said Jeremy Mottram, a professor at the Centre for Immunology and Infection at the University of York in England, and co-author of the study.

The parasite behind chagas, sleeping sickness and leishmaniasis invades the central nervous system in all three diseases. This results in mental deterioration; meanwhile, finding a drug that can target disease in the brain is difficult.

"We were able to detect the parasite in the brain using an imaging system," co-author Elmarie Myburgh, also of the University of York, said. "We then tested the chemical developed by Novartis using our imaging method, which showed that it can get into the brain and kill the parasite."

Source: Mottram J, Myburgh E. One New drug for three deadly diseases. Nature . 2016.

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