One drug can treat three deadly and neglected infections – Chagas disease, leishmaniasis and sleeping sickness – animal studies show.
It has been described as a “new hope” for tackling the parasitic infections which affect millions of people in the poorest parts of the world.
The discovery, reported in the journal Nature, was made by testing three million compounds.
The new drug is now entering safety tests before human trials.
The three diseases are all caused by similar parasites, leading scientists to believe one therapy might be useful against the trio.
- Sleeping sickness is caused by the Trypanosoma brucei parasite, which is spread by the bite of the tsetse fly. The disease is officially known as Human African trypanosomiasis, but takes its more common name from the coma that results when the parasite penetrates the brain. It is found in sub-Saharan Africa.
- Chagas disease – or America trypanosomiasis – is caused by the Trypansosoma cruzi parasite. It can cause the heart and digestive system to become enlarged, which can be deadly. The “kissing” or “assassin” bug spreads the parasite. Chagas mostly affects people in Latin America, but has now spread to other continents.
- Leishmaniasis is caused by infection with Leishmania parasites and is spread by the bite of sandflies. It causes a wide range of symptoms depending on which part of the body is infected, ranging from anaemia and fever to the total destruction of the lining of the nose, mouth and throat. It is found in the Americas, Africa and Asia.
Combined, the three parasites infect 20 million people and kill 50,000 each year, the research team said.
While there are some drugs to treat the infections, they are expensive and toxic and often need to be given via an intravenous drip, making them impractical in poor regions.
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