New research conducted by scientists from the University of York and Novartis has revealed that one drug might be able to treat three fatal and usually neglected parasitic diseases, Chagas disease, leishmaniasis and human African trypanosomiasis, also known as sleeping sickness.
These diseases currently cause havoc, affecting millions of people primarily living in the poorest tropical countries of the world. The diseases occur in different parts of the world and are caused by three varieties of insects.
The three infections have three differing impacts on patients, for example Chagas disease can result in cardiac arrest within 30% of the infected population.
Leishmaniasis can cause skin lesions and swelling of the liver and spleen, thereby affecting the lining of the patient’s mouth, throat and nose, while sleeping sickness can affect the brain of the patient, creating confusion and changes in behaviour.
Chagas disease occurs in South America and is caused by triatomine bugs, whereas leishmaniasis is spread by sandflies in South America along with Asia and Africa, and sleeping sickness is caused by tsetse flies, affecting people in Africa.
Sleeping sickness is caused by Trypanosoma brucei parasite, Chagas by Trypansosoma cruzi parasite, while Leishmaniasis is caused by Leishmania parasite. The parasites belong to a wider family of protozoa named kinetoplastids.
However, the three infections are believed to be caused from parasites that have some similar biology and genomic sequence, suggesting there can be one treatment for the three diseases.
The researchers are focusing on this group in order to develop an effective and single treatment that can be easily afforded by the poorer countries.
Scientists at the Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation tested more than three million compounds to analyse their effect against each parasite in both mice and human cells.
Compound GNF6702 was found to be successful in killing the three parasites without affecting any human cells, thereby suggesting that the compound might have no side effects.
University of York department of biology professor and study co-author Jeremy Mottram said: "It's a breakthrough in our understanding of the parasites that cause the three diseases, potentially allowing them to be cured.
"This early phase drug discovery project will now move towards toxicity testing prior to human trials."