Newswise — A recent editorial published in the Public Library of Science’s Neglected Tropical Diseases called Chagas disease, a parasite which kills about 20,000 people a year, “the AIDS of the Americas.” The disease can be transferred to a child from its mother or by blood transfusions. About 20 percent of those infected can develop life-threatening illness that includes enlarged hearts or intestines, and the drugs used today to treat the disease can take months to work.
A Texas Tech University expert studies ways to overcome diseases such as Chagas with researchers from Meharry Medical College and Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. He can discuss what progress has been made with finding the next generation of treatments for the disease.
W. David Nes, Horn Professor and director of Texas Tech’s Center for Chemical Biology, (806) 742-1673, or firstname.lastname@example.org
• North America is increasingly vulnerable to the spread of the disease from South America as a result of vectorial (human and dogs) and transfusional (blood-related risk) transmission events to diseases such as Chagas.
• Chagas disease, also known as South American trypanosomiasis, results from a parasite harbored in blood-sucking reduviid insects, and is at the doorstep of the United States where infected individuals can be stigmatized, like HIV/AIDS patients, thus, contributing to challenges in health care access and treatment of infected individuals.
• The current drugs to treat Chagas disease, nifurtimox and benznidazole, were discovered by empirical (blind) screening more than 40 years ago and registered and used in clinical settings for many years without a clear understanding of their mechanism of action.
• The disease inflicts people in developing nations, and there was not much interest to commercialize new drugs or develop a vaccine until recently.
• The difficulty in finding new medicines stems from few effective drugs to treat the disease satisfactorily and in the increasing spread of infection globally.
• “Exciting new developments in the design of inhibitors of specific enzymes in crucial metabolic pathways of the parasite are underway by talented investigators all over the world. Our group is working to develop a new class of drug that is designed to be a Trojan horse reagent providing a different way of killing parasites than the conventional use of tight-binding inhibitors.”
• “In related studies to yeast that infect HIV/AIDS patients, we identified an important sterol biosynthesis enzyme, and confirmed that the enzyme is synthesized in the Trypanosoma cruzi parasite responsible for Chagas disease. This enzyme is notable since it is absent from the human genome coding for enzymes of cholesterol biosynthesis, thus, making this catalyst an excellent target for rational drug design.”
• “The next generation of therapeutic agents may ultimately lie in combination therapy using one or more sterol biosynthesis inhibitors paired with commercially available drugs or drugs that interfere with other aspects of parasite biochemistry.”
• “We have taken an integrated approach that addresses defining drug targets in the parasites causing Chagas disease and sleeping sickness, which like HIV/AIDS, have gained notoriety because of their link to immunosuppressive states and represents one of the most wide-spread diseases of poverty.”