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Trojan horse bacteria may cure the sleeping sickness

New Delhi, Thu, 16 Feb 2012 NI Wire

Those suffering from sleeping sickness may get a relief in near future. In a recent study researchers have used a bacteria, which naturally resides in the tsetse fly, to release antibody fragments that can act against the trypanosome that causes sleeping sickness.

These antibodies that bind to the surface of the parasite may release targeted nanobodies, which could kill, or block, trypanosome development that causes lack of sleep.

Here it is worth noting that Sleeping sickness is caused by the trypanosome Trypanosoma brucei. The disease is transmitted to humans and animals through the bite of the tsetse fly.

In the first stage of the disease called haemolymphatic phase symptoms like fever, headaches, aching joints and itching are observed. In the second stage also called neurological phase, the parasite crosses the blood brain barrier and causes symptoms like confusion, poor co-ordination and the sleep disorders from which the name sleeping sickness has been derived. If left untreated, the disease can be lethal.

Diagnosis and treatment of sleeping sickness is very difficult and needs specially trained staff. In animals this infection causes anemia and weight loss and may result in death of the animal.

The bacterium (Sodalis glossinidius) is an endosymbiont, is present in tsetse fly midgut, muscle, fat and salivary glands. These bacteria are passed from a mother to her offspring and thus - genetically modified bacteria can also be spread down generations.

Researchers of Belgium genetically changed S. glossinidius bacteria in order to make them secrete a single domain antibody against a variant surface glycoprotein (VSG) of T. brucei. The growth of the mutated bacteria kept unchecked to better its chances of survival once released.

"When we looked at living trypanosomes under conditions that mimic the inside of the tsetse gut the Sodalis-expressed nanobodies were biologically active and bound all over the surface of the parasite. Now that we know this technique works we are looking at making nanobodies which will destroy or block development of the parasite in the tsetse fly gut," Van Den Abbeele, from the Institute of Tropical Medicine, Antwerp, was quoted as saying.

The research findings have been published in Microbial Cell Factories.

--With inputs from ANI

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