Potential New Treatment for Sleeping Sickness Discovered

Repurposing a drug can potentially treat trypanosomiasis.

Scientists have been working to find a faster method to cure the parasitic sleeping sickness disease, human African trypanosomiasis.

The disease is caused by an infection with the protozoan parasites transmitted by tsetse flies, which are especially prevalent in rural populations in sub-Saharan Africa. It can cause headaches, confusion, personality changes, and neurological problems if it is not treated.

Human African trypanosomiasis currently has complex diagnosis and treatment regimens that are difficult in impoverished areas.

“There is a significant challenge in terms of trying to find new drugs to control the disease,” said researcher Kojo Mensa-Wilmot. “Currently used treatments cannot be given orally and require people to go to a clinic in rural settings, which presents a problem for both health professionals as well as those infected with the disease.”

In a study published by Scientific Reports, scientists examined ways to improve drugs already in clinical trials to expedite the process. The researchers tested a drug against a mouse model of the disease and found that it cured the condition.

They found a drug that is able to cure human African trypanosomiasis (HAT), and 2 others that have the potential to.

“There are 2 compounds in clinical trials now that could be useful, but the pipeline for discovering these anti-trypanosome drugs is woeful,” Mensa-Wilmot said. “HAT is a disease of poverty, really, so there is little motivation for the pharmaceutical industry to be heavily invested. Because the parasite can become drug resistant, it is very important for us to be vigilant in finding new effective, orally administered treatments for the disease.”