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Sleeping sickness is a deadly disease that infects about sixty thousand people in Africa each year. Now scientists in Scotland say they may have found a new treatment. Their findings are in the journal Science. Sleeping sickness is spread by the bite of the tsetse fly. The insect can carry a parasite that infects the central nervous system.

First the infection causes fever, headache, itchy skin and weakness. Then when the parasite enters the brain it causes more serious problems. People suffer seizures and thinking problems, and they sleep for extended periods. If the disease is not treated, it almost always kills the victim. Paul Wyatt works at the Drug Discovery for Tropical Diseases program at the University of Dundee. Mister Wyatt led the study. He says the research identified a weakness in the parasite.

The weakness is an enzyme called N-myristoyl transferase, or NMT. The parasite needs NMT to survive. The researchers developed a mixture of chemicals that interfered with the performance of the enzyme. They tried it in test tubes containing the parasites. As a result, the parasites stopped reproducing. The scientists also tested the treatment on laboratory mice with sleeping sickness. They gave them the chemical compound by mouth.

The scientists said the infection disappeared. Now, Paul Wyatt says a drug based on the research could be ready for testing in humans within eighteen months. Currently, medicine for sleeping sickness requires a series of injections that are costly and painful. Hospital stays are also needed. And the side effects of the treatment can be serious, sometimes even causing death. Francois Chappuis is a specialist in neglected tropical diseases with the international group Doctors Without Borders. He says a less costly, easy-to-use medicine for sleeping sickness is badly needed. He says a simpler treatment taken by mouth would be the best. And that’s the VOA Special English Health Report. Transcripts and MP3s of our reports are on our Web site, You can also comment on our programs. You can also find us on Twitter and YouTube. And you can join the community at the new VOA Learning English fan page on Facebook. We’re at VOA Learning English (Special English).

Words in This Story

sickness – n. the condition of being ill

journal – n. a serious magazine or newspaper that is published regularly about a particular subject

tsetse fly – n. one of various types of African fly that feed on blood and can give serious diseases to the person or animal they bite

insect – n. a type of very small animal with six legs, a body divided into three parts and usually two pairs of wings, or, more generally, any similar very small animal

parasite – n. an animal or plant that lives on or in another animal or plant of a different type and feeds from it

itchy – adj. having or causing an itch

enzyme – n. any of a group of chemical substances that are produced by living cells and cause particular chemical reactions to happen while not being changed themselves

laboratory – n. a room or building with scientific equipment for doing scientific tests or for teaching science, or a place where chemicals or medicines are produced

compound – n. a chemical that two or more elements

neglected – adj. not receiving enough care or attention

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