After many years of study, a team of researchers is releasing data today that it hopes will lead to new drug therapies that will kill the family of parasites that causes a deadly trio of insect-borne diseases and has afflicted inhabitants of underdeveloped and developing nations for centuries.
In an article to be published in today's issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry, Vanderbilt University scientist Galina Lepesheva and her team are reporting their successful attempt at determining the structure of an enzyme essential to the survival of the protozoan parasites that cause sleeping sickness, Chagas disease and leishmaniasis. They say this new information provides the first up-close look at the busy enzyme and, perhaps more importantly, shows how one compound in particular prevents it from conducting business as usual.
"With human migrations, HIV co-infections and the broadening of the host reservoirs due to climate changes, sleeping sickness and other diseases caused by these protozoan pathogens are now spreading around the world, including within the United States and Europe," said Lepesheva, a research associate professor at the Vanderbilt's department of biochemistry. "It is our hope that the results of our work might be helpful for the development of an effective treatment for such protozoan infections, some of which still remain incurable."
Lepesheva and her team have set their sights on the trypanosomatidae family of parasites, which causes a trio of horrifying diseases:
Human African Trypanosomiasis is transferred by the biting tsetse (pronounced TEE-TEE) fly in sub-Saharan Africa. Its victims suffer only flulike symptoms in the first phase of infection, but it often isn't diagnosed till after the parasite has entered the central nervous system, causing mental deterioration, mood swings, coma and death.
Chagas disease is passed on by the the reduviid, or "kissing bug," named for its
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American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology