University of Dundee researchers have been awarded funding for pre-clinical drug trials on Chagas disease.
Research at Dundee has been awarded £4.4 million to study a disease that can kill victims without them knowing they have it.
Wellcome Trust funding will support 14 jobs in Dundee to develop pre-clinical drug trials for Chagas disease, after the University of Dundee and GSK were awarded £4.4m.
A new drug treatment will be developed at the Wellcome Centre for Anti-Infectives to fight this disease, which can live without warning in a person's body before it kills them.
The disease is rarely reported in the UK, but this is partially due to lack of testing and general awareness.In reality, there may be "thousands" of cases from people who have been infected elsewhere and have travelled to the UK.
Symptoms of an infection tend to be mild and similar to those of a mild cold or fever, which is why people tend to ignore them.
It is estimated that millions of people around the world suffer from Chagas disease, with current treatments being limited in effectiveness and causing significant side effects.
According to Dr Manu De Rycker, head of translational parasitology at Dundee's School of Life Sciences, the disease can cause life-threatening damage to the heart, oesophagus, and colon. "Around 30% of people will develop this disease decades after being infected," he added.
GSK's portfolio leader in global health, Tim Miles, said: "This funding from the Wellcome Trust will enable us to develop treatments for Chagas disease that may be shorter, simpler and safer. In partnership with the University of Dundee, we are committed to changing the trajectory of Chagas disease and improving the health of millions of people.”
According to the World Health Organisation, between six and seven million people are infected with the Trypanosoma cruzi parasite, which causes the disease.
Due to large-scale population movements, it has slowly started to spread throughout the world from Central and South America.
Poorly constructed homes are typically infested with triatomine bugs, which spread Chagas.
During the night, they bite exposed skin and defecate nearby. If the person unintentionally smears the faeces into their eyes or mouth, the infection can spread. In addition, it can be transmitted from mother to child through blood transfusion.
According to Kevin Read, co-leader of the project and professor at the University of Dundee, "the parasites are intracellular, spread throughout the body, and are hard to kill. In the coming years, Chagas disease could affect many more millions of people, so finding new treatments is imperative."
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