Professor and Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar in Cellular Biology, Dr. Roberto Docampo, has discovered a specialized structure inside trypanosome parasites that contain proteins proved to be responsible for the their growth and replication. This makes an ideal target for eliminating the parasites that cause both Chagas disease and Human African Trypanosomiasis (HAT), also known as African sleeping sickness.
Chagas disease and African sleeping sickness kill more than 10,000 people every year in Latin America and Africa. In some areas, up to 60 percent of people are infected with Chagas disease. This obscenely high disease burden strains developing nations’ resources by reducing the available workforce and complicates even the most routine medical procedures by making it almost impossible to ensure a parasite-free blood supply for surgeries and transfusion.
In experiments, once the proteins were disabled, the parasite couldn’t reproduce or cause disease in its host. Docampo is now looking for ways to specifically target those proteins with medications. His lab has already shown that the parasites that cause Chagas disease are vulnerable to specific antifungal agents.
“These are fundamental discoveries about cellular function and life,” Docampo said. “We will continue to investigate these structures and pathways in the hope of finding new therapies to treat these diseases that affect so many people.”