University of Dundee

1.7 million grant from the Wellcome Trust for Mike Ferguson and Ian Gilbert to further investigate African Sleeping Sickness

30 Sep 2008

 £1.7million grant from the Wellcome Trust for Mike Ferguson and Ian Gilbert to further investigate African Sleeping Sickness

Researchers at the University of Dundee have been granted £1.7million to try and find the chink in the armour of one of the world’s most neglected tropical diseases.

Scientists in the College of Life Sciences at Dundee are investigating how the devastating disease of African Sleeping Sickness can be stopped. The disease kills at least 50,000 people per year in sub-Saharan Africa, with hundreds of thousands more infected. There is no current vaccine to treat the disease and current drugs are extremely toxic and difficult to administer.

Professors Mike Ferguson and Ian Gilbert have been awarded the £1.7million grant from the Wellcome Trust to examine how the parasite which transmits the disease builds its vital protective coat.

“African Sleeping Sickness is transmitted by a parasite called a trypanosome,” explained Professor Ferguson. “What we are looking at is how that parasite builds its surface coat, a sort of protective shell, and how we can stop that.

“This coat helps protect the parasite against the host immune system, which then allows the disease to take hold. We want to understand how the parasite builds the component of the coat so that we can then devise new modes of attack to weaken it.

“The hope is that the protective coat will also be the trypanosome’s Achilles heel.”

Dundee is uniquely placed in the academic world in being able to follow the whole process through from making the basic molecular findings that may unlock the assembly of the coat, to testing these as drug targets in the Drug Discovery Unit, the £8million venture that was started in 2006 with the express intention of tackling neglected diseases.

“These is very little interest in diseases like African Sleeping Sickness within the pharmaceutical industry, primarily because there is not likely to be much money in finding and developing a cure for the very poor,” said Professor Ferguson.

“That is why we established our unit here, so that we can identify drug targets and test them thoroughly and hopefully find new drugs which can help us get rid of these terribly debilitating diseases.”

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