Science Pops Open, Ep. 4: Disrupting the Sleeping Sickness Symphony

Research fellows of the AXA Research Fund tell the story of their work to reduce an array of risks

A treatment that killed 10% of patients would certainly be considered unacceptable by modern medical standards. And yet, that is the best that doctors can currently offer victims of sleeping sickness. This disease, which strikes rural Africa, in particular, is caused by a parasite called trypanosome. It is passed to a human or animal by the bite of a tsetse fly, much like mosquitoes may transmit the parasite causing malaria. Once in a person’s blood, it travels to the brain where it interrupts the usual sleep/wake cycles. Victims are neither fully conscious nor fully asleep and, without today’s very aggressive drugs, the patient will die.

Cet article existe également en français :  Science Pops Open, Ep. 4 : La maladie du sommeil : une symphonie à interrompre

 

A treatment that killed 10% of patients would certainly be considered unacceptable by modern medical standards. And yet, that is the best that doctors can currently offer victims of sleeping sickness. This disease, which strikes rural Africa, in particular, is caused by a parasite called trypanosome. It is passed to a human or animal by the bite of a tsetse fly, much like mosquitoes may transmit the parasite causing malaria. Once in a person’s blood, it travels to the brain where it interrupts the usual sleep/wake cycles. Victims are neither fully conscious nor fully asleep and, without today’s very aggressive drugs, the patient will die.

Fabien Guegan believes the parasite’s complex life cycle holds the key to halting sleeping sickness. Between the tsetse fly’s stomach and a person’s blood, trypanosome inhabits two very different environments. Yet, very quickly, it is able to adapt, changing its shape and metabolism by activating different genes. Dr. Guegan is hot on the trail of the molecules he thinks may act as “orchestra conductors”, synchronizing the many different elements of this transformation. Disrupting the conductor could make the whole trypanosome symphony fall apart. His strategy of targeting the transmission process inside the parasite could make it possible to block the spread between infected humans and animals and more tsetse flies. If so, this could mean a huge step forward in controlling sleeping sickness.

In this video, Dr. Guegan explains more about sleeping sickness and trypanosome, and how, if successful, his molecules could provide the best hope yet for blocking the spread of this terrible disease:

 

 

Next Monday:

Social welfare is, at once, vitally important and rife with challenges. As governments tighten their budgets, welfare policies are frequently called into question. By studying what happens to society when the State allocates welfare benefits, correctly, to those unable to work, but sometimes incorrectly, too, Sean Slack aims to help governments optimize the aid they bring their citizens.

More Episodes of Science Pops Open:

Ep. 1 – Your body can defend itself against cancer. It just needs a little help!, with Margot Cucchetti 

Ep. 2 – Improving outcomes of crisis and conflict, thanks to an ethnographic outlook, with Ruben Andersson

Ep. 3 – After an Earthquake, the Show Must Go On, with Anna Reggio

Ep. 4 – Disrupting the Sleeping Sickness Symphony, with Fabien Guegan

Ep. 5 – Optimizing Welfare…and Equality, with Sean Slack

Ep. 6 – Awaiting Balance in the Adolescent Brain, with Kiki Zanolie

Ep. 7 – Come Drought or High Water, with Luciano Raso

Ep. 8 – Taking European Tornadoes by Storm, with Bogdan Antonescu

Ep. 9 – Learning to Tackle Climate Change Together, with Sandrine Sidze

Ep. 10 – Nourish the Children of Urban Slums, with Sophie Goudet

Ep. 11 – In Money Matters, We're Only Human, with Jeroen Nieboer

Ep. 12 – A Depressed Sense of Smell?, with Kalliopi Apazoglou

Ep. 13 – Climate Shifts Carried on a River of Air, with Nikolaos Bakas

Ep. 14 – Something in the Air Down There, with Fulvio Amato

Ep. 15 – Foretelling a Complex Future for our Complex Ecosystems, with Phillip Staniczenko

Ep. 16 – From Childhood Illness to Innovative Antibiotics, with Agata Starosta

Ep. 17 – Plants & Poisons: Assessing Contamination in Our Environment, with Natalia Ospina-Alvarez

Ep. 18 – Voice of a Storm Surge, with Emiliano Renzi