News / Health

Scientists Try to Develop Safer Sleeping Sickness Cure

Variation on current drug shows promise in lab tests

Researchers say they've created a safer version of a drug used to treat sleeping sickness.
Researchers say they've created a safer version of a drug used to treat sleeping sickness.

Multimedia

Audio
Art Chimes

Researchers say they've developed a safer way to treat sleeping sickness, a parasitic disease that is fatal if not treated.

Sleeping sickness, or trypanosomiasis, is a chronic medical problem in 36 countries of sub-Saharan Africa and treatment for one variety is highly toxic.

Sleeping sickness is caused by two related parasites, producing two varieties of the disease. The form prevalent in West Africa is more common, but the East African variety is more aggressive, and the patient can die within weeks or months of infection.

The parasite first invades the blood and lymph systems, but then crosses into the nervous system, causing symptoms like confusion, behavior change, and daytime sleepiness. Brain infection leads to inflammation and death.

For patients with the East African form of the disease, researcher Peter Kennedy says the only available treatment is itself a serious health risk.

"The problem is, the drugs for the brain disease are very, very toxic," he says. "So, untreated, everyone dies. But treated with this drug, five percent of patients die. This is an appalling figure, which just has to be improved."

Kennedy, an immunologist at the University of Glasgow in Scotland, is a leading expert on sleeping sickness. He explains that the drug, called melarsoprol, has to be injected intravenously, repeatedly, and at increasing concentrations.

So Kennedy and his colleagues combined melarsoprol with another chemical, cyclodextrin. The resulting formula doesn't have to be injected.

"What we find is that it can be given orally. And because of this, it can be absorbed from the gut more slowly. And we believe - although we don't know for sure - that one of the main reasons why it's less toxic is that there isn't this sudden rush of drug into the body, and thereby producing less toxic effects."

In testing on laboratory mice, Kennedy says the combination retained the effectiveness of melarsoprol, without the frequently fatal side effects.

But will it work the same way in humans? Sometimes, new drugs work fine in animal tests, but not with people. Kennedy says, "this is different. This is already a drug that is given to humans. What we've done is we've used the mouse model to change the molecular configuration of the drug so the drug becomes less toxic and effective orally."

Plans are already underway to take this new combination medicine to human trials, starting as soon as the beginning of 2013. If it all works out, he says the melarsoprol-cyclodextrin combination could lower the cost of treatment by reducing hospital stays.

You May Like

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More