One New Discovery Could Treat 3 Neglected Diseases

An experimental compound could kill parasites that cause Chagas disease, sleeping sickness and leishmaniasis.
Posted at 11:40 AM, Aug 09, 2016

One new discovery might eventually fight three tropical diseases.

Parasites that cause Chagas disease, leishmaniasis and so-called sleeping sickness infect a combined 20 million people each year –– mostly in poorer communities in Latin America, Africa and Asia.

Funding for treatment has been a problem compared to other diseases. While more than 50,000 people die each year due to those three illnesses, experts say people infected with the highly publicized Zika virus rarely get sick enough to need medical attention.

SEE MORE: Florida's Zika Problem Could Be Much Bigger Than The Numbers Suggest

All three parasites that cause those diseases have vastly different symptoms in human hosts, and each is spread by a different insect.

Yet they all have a common enzyme. A team of scientists has discovered one compound that could effectively kill all three parasites. It works by binding to them and preventing them from spreading.

CNN notes there are already drugs on the market to fight these diseases, but some aren't practical given the availability of medical care in these poorer regions. One benefit of the new drug is it could be taken as a pill.

So far, the compound has only been tested on animals, but it didn't show adverse effects or do damage when applied to human cells. That means it could have fewer side effects than the drugs that currently treat the parasites.

This video includes clips from Al JazeeraKazakh TVAnimal PlanetWTVFNBCABCKRQE and Doctors Without Borders and images from Curtis-Robles et al. / CC BY 4.0.