Aug. 16, 2007 Scientists at the University of Hull are working on an improved treatment for a debilitating flesh-eating disease which appears to be on the rise due to global warming.
Should global warming continue to ravage our planet at current rates, the numbers of people suffering Leishmaniasis, a flesh-eating and sometimes fatal disease will increase dramatically, experts warn. Leishmaniasis is caused by a parasite transmitted via sand fly bites usually found only in tropical climates. Rising temperatures will increase the number of countries the sand fly colonises, moving further north and through Europe.
Due to travel and tourism, nations affected are already on the increase. Military personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan are also exposed to the conditions associated with contracting Leishmaniasis.
Dr Ross Boyle, lead researcher on the project at the University of Hull said, “Global warming and the military presence in countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan mean that this horrific and debilitating disease is affecting more people than ever before. My co-investigator, Dr Tim Paget at the Medway School of Pharmacy, Hull PhD student Carrie-Anne Bristow and myself wanted to work towards finding a significantly better treatment.”
Leishmaniasis currently affects 12 million people across the globe with 350 million people at risk of infection and a further 2 million new cases each year. It manifests itself in one of three ways. The less severe cutaneous type leads to large unpleasant sores, the mucoutaneous variety attacks the mucous membranes eating away at structures such as the lips and nose, and the visceral form attacks the body systemically leading to death within as little as a few months.
Current treatments have unpleasant side effects, and the need for alternative methods of treatment is important because of increasing drug resistance by the parasite.
Chemists at the University are making great advances following years of research utilising photodynamic therapy to halt the effects of Leishmaniasis.
Alongside Harvard Medical School in the US, Hull has the only major programme in the world pioneering the use of photodynamic therapy, traditionally used to treat cancers, for the treatment of Leishmaniasis.
Following years of research, Medicinal Chemists at Hull have synthesised the basic core molecule which could lead to a cure for cutaneous and mucocutaneous Leishmaniasis. They are currently screening variation of this to home in on the key chemical structure needed for maximum therapeutic effect.
Dr Ross Boyle concludes, “It’s really exciting to be involved in research which could improve the lives of millions of people suffering the effects of this debilitating infection.”
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