Published on April 1, 2010 at 4:34 PM
By Dr Ananya Mandal
African sleeping sickness or Human African Typanosomiasis is a potentially fatal disease affecting 50 to 70 thousand Africans each year. Carried by the bite tsetse fly this fatal disease is actually caused by a tiny parasite that attacks the nervous system, brain, spinal column resulting in mental confusion and finally death.
On Wednesday researchers have announced a new treatment for this disease. These findings were reported in the British journal "Nature." Now there can be a safe, non toxic, oral drug for this disease.
"This is one of the most significant findings made in recent years in terms of drug discovery and development for neglected diseases," said Professor Paul Wyatt, director of the Drug Discovery for Tropical Diseases program at the University of Dundee, Scotland.
Wyatt and his colleagues have developed a chemical that breaks down an enzyme called N-myristoyl transferase, which is essential for survival and growth of the parasites causing the disease. The Dundee research was backed by partners at the University of York and the Structural Genomics Consortium in Toronto, Canada.
The next step is to "develop these early molecules into candidate drugs for clinical trials," Wyatt said. The researchers anticipate that the actual pills will be ready for human clinical trials in another one and a half years.
The currently available drugs are riddled with hurdles. One is arsenic based and is too toxic and the other eflornithine is too expensive and not always effective.
Professor Mike Ferguson says the medication appeared to be effective and safe in tests on mice. "We've developed, if you like, a magic bullet that goes right to one of the main organs of the parasite and kills it very, very effectively…The prototype drug that we have at the moment appears to be extremely safe."