New York: Researchers have identified a protein that is vital to the good health of the parasite that causes sleeping sickness that could even lead to the death of the affected people.
The findings could lead to inexpensive new therapies as disrupting this protein, called proliferating cell nuclear antigen or PCNA, with drugs could potentially make it impossible for the parasite to reproduce and survive, reducing the health dangers to its human hosts.
The discovery suggests multiple ways to disrupt PCNA’s function, including using drugs to either over express, deplete, or block the protein, said Zachary Mackey, researcher at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.
“The fact that PCNA can be exploited in a variety of ways to kill the parasite means that a wide range of small molecules or drugs could be used to deregulate it,” the researchers said.
Sleeping sickness is caused by invasion of the Trypanosoma brucei parasite into the host’s bloodstream.
The native African tsetse fly transmits the parasite, and as it initially spreads through the body, it causes fever, headache, and intense aches and pains, according to the World Health Organisation.
In later stages of the disease, the parasite spreads to the brain, where it causes swelling, and slurred speech, confusion, and difficulty in walking, followed by coma and eventually death.
Though a few drugs exist to treat the late stages of the infection, they are either very expensive or have extremely powerful side effects, Mackey said.
The study appeared in the journal Cell Cycle.