Bug drugs

September 6, 2011

The Column

The Column, The Column-09-06-2011, Volume 7, Issue 16

A study into the way that the tropical parasite Leishmania uses the nutrients they need to grow has provided researchers with drug targets that could be used to combat them.

A study into the way that the tropical parasite Leishmania uses the nutrients they need to grow has provided researchers with drug targets that could be used to combat them.

Leishmania are tropical parasites that proliferate in sandflies and are transferred to mammals when they are bitten by the fly. They infect 12 million people worldwide, causing a range of reactions, from skin conditions to organ infection, and are responsible for 500   000 deaths annually.

A study, published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry,1 has developed an analytical method that has revealed the metabolic pathways essential for the parasite’s survival, down to the particular atoms it uses as a food source. To study the metabolism 13C-labelled carbon sources were introduced into the sugar glucose that the parasites feed on. Gas chromatography–mass spectrometry and nuclear magnetic resonance were then used to follow how the atoms were incorporated by the parasite, revealing the metabolic pathways essential to the parasite’s survival, which would, therefore, be good drug targets to block to kill it.

According to the authors, current anti-parasitic drugs have enormous side effects, as they don’t target specific pathogen metabolic pathways. With a greater understanding of the parasite, specific drugs can be developed with minimal side effects.

1. E.C. Saunders et al., J. Biol. Chem.,286, 27706–27717 (2011).

This story originally appeared in The Column. Click here to view that issue.