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For Africa, a Possible New Way to Treat Sleeping Sickness

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Published on Apr 29, 2010

This is the VOA Special English Health Report, from http://voaspecialenglish.com

Sleeping sickness is a deadly disease that infects about sixty thousand people in Africa each year. Now scientists in Scotland say they may have found a new treatment. Their findings are in the journal Science.
Sleeping sickness is spread by the bite of the tsetse fly. The insect can carry
a parasite that infects the central nervous system. First the infection causes fever, headache, itchy skin
and weakness.
Then when the parasite enters the brain it causes more serious problems. People suffer seizures and thinking problems, and they sleep for extended periods. If the disease is not treated,
it almost always kills the victim.
Paul Wyatt works at the Drug Discovery for Tropical Diseases program at the University of Dundee. Mister Wyatt led the study. He says the research identified a weakness in the parasite. The weakness is an enzyme called N-myristoyl transferase, or NMT. The parasite needs NMT to survive.
The researchers developed a mixture of chemicals that interfered with
the performance of the enzyme.
They tried it in test tubes containing the parasites. As a result,
the parasites stopped reproducing.
The scientists also tested the treatment on laboratory mice
with sleeping sickness. They gave them the chemical compound by mouth. The scientists said the infection disappeared.
Now, Paul Wyatt says a drug based on the research could be ready for testing in humans within eighteen months. Currently, medicine for sleeping sickness requires a series of injections that are costly and painful.
Hospital stays are also needed.
And the side effects of the treatment can be serious, sometimes even causing death.
Francois Chappuis is a specialist in neglected tropical diseases with the international group Doctors Without Borders. He says a less costly,
easy-to-use medicine for sleeping sickness is badly needed. He says a simpler treatment taken by mouth would be the best.
And that's the VOA Special English Health Report. Transcripts and MP3s
of our reports are on our Web site, voaspecialenglish.com. You can also comment on our programs. You can also find us on Twitter and YouTube. And you can join the community at the new VOA Learning English fan page on Facebook. We're at VOA Learning English (Special English).

(Adapted from a radio program broadcast 07Apr2010)

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