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Developing a new treatment for Chagas

Thursday, January 29, 2015 - 10:14am

The battle against tropical diseases continues apace with major headway coming in the form of public-private funding collaborations that keep great researchers focused on developing effective new treatments:

University of Georgia researchers in collaboration with Anacor Pharmaceuticals have received a $5.3 million grant from the Wellcome Trust to develop a new drug for the treatment of Chagas disease, which they hope will be ready to enter clinical trials by 2016.

Chagas disease is caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi, which spreads via a subspecies of blood-feeding insects commonly known as "kissing bugs" because they tend to bite people on the face and lips. While the disease can progress slowly, chronic infection almost inevitably results in irreparable damage to heart and digestive system tissues.

Between 10 and 20 million people, mostly in Central and South America, are infected with Trypanosoma cruzi, and Chagas disease kills more people in Latin America than any other infectious disease—including malaria, tuberculosis and HIV. An increasing number of cases are also being documented outside the normal high transmission areas, including in the U.S. and Europe.

"The two drugs commonly used to treat Chagas disease, benznidazole and nifurtimox, require a long course of therapy and have a number of serious side effects," said Rick Tarleton, UGA Athletic Association Distinguished Research Professor of Biological Sciences in the department of cellular biology in UGA's Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. "This combined with the fact that many isolates of the parasite are resistant to these existing drugs emphasizes the tremendous need for new treatments."

A number of constraints, cost and side effects prime among them, prevent the most helpful drugs from getting to the people who need them the most. In the case of Chagas, that number of people is vast and this collaboration will have an effect on the lives of tens of milions. Fantastic work by Dr. Tarleton and his team. We wish them continued success in developing this new class of drug treatments focused on these devastating but often overlooked diseases.

Image: Rick Tarleton, Athletic Association Distinguished Professor in the Biological Sciences. (Credit: Andrew Davis Tucker/UGA)

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