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Leishmaniasis drug breakthrough

16th February 2010

A single dose of a drug made by Gilead Sciences was very effective against visceral leishmaniasis, a disease caused by a deadly parasite also known as kala-azar, in a recent Indian study.

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Conventional treatments for kala-azar are far inferior by comparison, especially because they carry a greater risk of side effects.

The disease is the second largest parasitic killer in the world, after malaria.

The drug is known as liposomal amphotericin B, and the discovery will revolutionise the way doctors approach the disease.

Kala-azar is currently spreading around Europe, Africa, and Asia, though the majority of sufferers live in India.

Because the parasite relies on the sandfly, an organism which is not found in the Americas, the disease is only found in the eastern hemisphere.

Co-infection with HIV is also an emerging health problem, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

For the purposes of the study, the researchers compared one group of patients receiving the drug to a group of patients who volunteered to receive the standard treatment of a month in a hospital.

They found that all 304 of the patients taking a high dose of the drug over the course of an hour managed completely to resist the deadly parasite.

All but a handful of the patients receiving the standard treatment also managed to recover. The drug they were given resembles liposomal amphotericin B.

Kala-azar, which is spread through sandfly bites, infects about 500,000 people around the world.

Study leader Shyam Sundar of the Banaras Hindu University in Varanasi said that doctors can treat 40 to 50 times more patients using the drug, which is currently manufactured by Gilead Sciences under the name AmBisome.

Kala-azar, also known as black fever, and Dumdum fever in addition to its proper scientific name, is the most severe protozoan parasite in the Leishmania genus.

Its symptoms include liver and spleen swelling, fever, ulcers on mucous membranes, and fatigue.

 

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