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Discovery of enzyme in the sleeping sickness parasite streamlines drug development

Researchers from Umeå University in Sweden have discovered that the single-celled parasite causing African sleeping sickness has a defence mechanism against potential pharmaceuticals under development against the disease. The deadly parasite has an enzyme that can cleave and hence disarm adenosine analogue pharmaceuticals. This according to a study recently published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

African sleeping sickness is caused by the single-cell parasite Trypanosoma brucei and is spread by infected tsetse flies in sub-Saharan Africa. The disease is deadly, affecting both humans and livestock. At present, no vaccine exists and the pharmaceuticals available are highly toxic, troublesome to use or can only be used on some variants or stages of the disease. The only medication that can treat all forms of the disease in humans is Melarsoprol, which in 5-10 percent of treatments leads to fatal brain damages.

Unicellular parasite Trypanosoma brucei
African sleeping sickness is caused by the unicellular parasite Trypanosoma brucei
Illustration Credit: Anders Hofer