According to the Roslin Institute, information about a parasite that kills 3 million head of cattle each year could be the basis for the development of much-needed new treatments for the infection.
Researchers have gained a better understanding of the parasite that causes infection with African animal trypanosome (AAT), the animal equivalent of sleeping sickness.
Their study reveals key differences in the biology of Congolense trypanosome parasite, which causes infection in animals, compared to the closely related parasite T. brucei, which affects people.
This information could pave the way for drugs to treat AAT and support further studies on the T. congolense parasite, which spreads by biting tsetse flies and widely affects livestock in sub-Saharan Africa.
A new understanding of the parasite’s behavior could also help explain how drug resistance became a major problem in the treatment of AAT. New therapies are urgently needed to treat the infections, which have been managed by the same few drugs for decades.
The findings could also help shed light on how the parasite interacts with the animal’s immune system, further supporting infection management efforts.
A team of scientists from the Roslin Institute, the Universities of Glasgow and Nottingham, and industry partner GALVmed have discovered key differences in how T. congolense and T. brucei interact with glucose and fatty acids in the blood.
They also discovered variations in the way that each generates the key molecules they need to function in the bloodstream.
This information offers potential for new drugs designed to interfere with these processes in T. congolense, to prevent it from perpetuating the infection.
“Trypanosomiasis is a major problem for livestock owners in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The development of new drug products is expensive and it takes many years to develop and register safe and effective treatments. Understanding the metabolism of parasites such as trypanosomes helps researchers identify candidate molecules with the best chance of translation for successful treatment, “Michael Pearce, AAT program manager at GALVmed.
The researchers used the data analysis to compare the genetic makeup of the two parasites. They also studied how the parasites responded to tests that interrupted key biological functions in each.
Their results highlight key differences in the characteristics of T. congolense compared to T. brucei, in the way it produces the energy it needs to function and how it generates the essential molecules necessary for its survival.
Their findings will inform the development of new therapies for AAT and allow further research into the management of the disease.
“The scale of African animal trypanosome infections is enormous, wreaking havoc on livestock, especially cattle herders. The treatments available are limited and drug resistance is a significant problem. This research is a valuable resource for the T. congolense parasite, which we hope will support further research to target this important pathogen, ”said Professor Liam Morrison of the Roslin Institute.
Dr Pieter Steketee, researcher at the Roslin Institute, said that “Technologies that provide detailed information beyond the genome level of organisms are helping to strengthen our knowledge base. For parasites such as T. congolense, this can have important implications in drug design. and understanding drug resistance. Our study helps dissect the differences between parasite species in detail and will help predict drug efficacy and interactions. “
The study, supported by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, part of UK Research and Innovation, and GALVmed, was published in PLOS Pathogens.
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