Page last updated at 00:41 GMT, Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Grant to tackle sleeping sickness

Tsetse fly
The sickness is caused by a parasite carried by the tsetse fly

A charity run by Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates has awarded £3m to Glasgow University to further the treatment of sleeping sickness.

The money will help develop new models to test the ability of drugs to treat the potentially-fatal disease.

Sleeping sickness, also known as Human African Trypanosomasis, is caused by a parasite carried by the tsetse fly.

Once in the blood stream it attacks the blood and nervous system and if left untreated usually results in death.

Sleeping sickness is seen mainly in sub-Saharan Africa and affects up to 500,000 people each year.

About one in 10 people who contract the disease die and it can be difficult to diagnose until a fairly advanced stage.

With this project we hope to be able to reduce the amount of time required to determine the effect of a drug against parasites within the brain from in excess of six months to just a few weeks
Professor Mike Barrett
Glasgow University

Treatments have varying degrees of success. One arsenic-based drug, commonly used in treatment for many years, killed some patients.

Others require repeated injections which are difficult to achieve in a clinical setting in rural Africa.

The Glasgow University study aims to use new technologies to identify suitable drugs for treating the disease.

The cash from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will be split between Glasgow University and collaborators at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

The lead investigator on the project, Professor Mike Barrett from Glasgow University's faculty of biomedical and life sciences, said he was delighted with the grant.

"With this project we hope to be able to reduce the amount of time required to determine the effect of a drug against parasites within the brain from in excess of six months to just a few weeks."



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