Human African trypanosomiasis, long known as sleeping sickness, is a vector-borne parasitic disease endemic to rural sub-Saharan Africa. A research team led by Kojo Mensa-Wilmot of cellular biology reports significant progress combating the disease in a newly published study:
"There is a significant challenge in terms of trying to find new drugs to control the disease," said Kojo Mensa-Wilmot, professor and head of the department of cellular biology in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. "Currently used treatments cannot be given orally and require people to go to a clinic in rural settings, which presents a problem for both health professionals as well as those infected with the disease."
The new paper describes "drug re-purposing" by the UGA-led team, an approach in which drugs developed for one disease are tested for effectiveness against a different disease. As part of a drug discovery initiative funded by the National Institutes of Health, Cleveland Biolabs Inc. synthesized a class of compounds from which the research team selected to test against the parasite. Using an animal model for the disease, the researchers administered the drug orally to and cured the disease in mice.
"Their original goal was to create compounds to cure some types of cancer. From more than 30 compounds screened we found one that cures the disease and two more with potential to eliminate the infection," Mensa-Wilmot said.
As Dr. Mensa-Wimot explained to me, it is deeply meaningful career achievement to be on the precipice of progress against HAT. Professional interests, interdisciplinary collaborations, public-private partnerships, dedicated postdoctoral researchers all play a role; but impacting the lives of so many who suffer this disease is a particularly poignant opportunity to make a difference. Congratulations to the team and continued good luck as these lead drugs advance toward clinical trials. We are truly to fortunate to be the home of this level of excellence in human endeavor.