New discovery from EID members offers hope in fight against deadly infection

New discovery offers hope in fight against deadly infection

A scientific development could lead to medicines to treat a tropical infection that affects millions of people each year.  Scientists have created a compound that targets the parasite responsible for leishmaniasis, which causes a range of illnesses including Black Fever, which kills around 50,000 people each year, mostly in India.  The treatment works by blocking the action of a crucial enzyme in the parasite, preventing it from carrying out its key role of converting food into energy to keep the parasite alive.

(A) Leishmania infantum which causes black fever in human hosts; (B) Bloodsucking sandfly responsible for host-host transmission of the parasite.

Scientists say that because the type of enzyme involved is common to many other organisms, including people, their findings could be applied to other diseases. It may, for example, inform development of drugs to prevent the supply of nutrition to tumours.  Researchers at the University of Edinburgh and the National Institute for Health in the US tested 300,000 possible drug molecules to identify those that were most effective. Their results were validated using structural tests that showed the drug had disabled the enzyme.  The team says that with further work, their findings could in the first instance translate into effective medicines against Black Fever and related infections.

The study, published in the Biochemical Journal (link to abstract in BJ), was supported by the Wellcome Trust, Medical Research Council and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

Professor Malcolm Walkinshaw of the University of Edinburgh's School of Biological Sciences, who led the study, said:

By testing thousands of possible compounds we have identified an interesting way to block a crucial function of this parasite. This could be used in developing a new class of drug against this dangerous and disfiguring disease."

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