RESEARCHERS at Manchester University have made a breakthrough in the fight against human whipworm.
Whipworm eggs are passed from infected faeces into people by hand to mouth contact, often in unsanitary toilets or areas where people live close together.
Symptoms can include: bloody diarrhoea, painful or frequent defecation, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, headaches, sudden and unexpected weight loss, faecal incontinence, and the inability to control defecation.
In co-operation with Oxford University and University College London, a newly tested class of chemical compounds (dihydrobenzoxazepinones) has been found to kill both the egg and adult stages of whipworm much more effectively than existing drugs.
Current treatments are based on 1960s drugs initially developed for livestock, which have a low success rate in people.
Professor Kathryn Else, from The University of Manchester, said: “Eradicating the whipworm requires more effective drugs, improving hygiene and vaccine development. The compounds we have discovered could address the first two of these.
“This team brought expertise from immunology, medicinal chemistry and neurobiology and really shows how combining across disciplines and institutions can lead to important new discoveries.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that between 604-795 million people in the world are infected with whipworm, with developing countries being hardest hit.
Professor Else added: “Although we rarely see whipworm infection in the UK, it is a serious and damaging problem in many parts of the world and if we can develop this treatment, the lives of many people could be improved.”
Professor Angela Russell, a member of the Oxford team that worked on this project, said: “Current therapies are limited, so our approach, which presents the opportunity for both a direct (ie human drug) and indirect application (an environmental spray) is very exciting.
“The new molecules we have identified are exciting start points, but as with all drug discovery programs they need modifying in order to improve activity and have better properties. Currently we are pursuing a range of strategies to achieve just that.”
Commenting on the collaborative nature of the project, Professor Russell said: “The Manchester and UCL teams are experts in their field, and allow us to access techniques which we simply don’t have available in our labs, so collaboration is essential.
“Throughout industry and academia this collaborative approach is very much the direction that many programs are heading for exactly this reason.
“This is the way scientific research is heading, away from a siloed model to one where we recognise that we can often only tackle big problems through drawing on our combined expertise.”
Dr David Sattelle, who was part of the University College London team that worked on the project, said, the research was “ongoing”, and that “we want to explore this chemical family to see if we can improve further the potency of the compounds in immobilising and clearing the parasite, while also retaining its safety properties.
“We are fortunate in this respect in collaborating with Prof Angela Russell of the University of Oxford, a world class medicinal chemist”
Professor Sattelle added: “A new class of anthelmintic chemistry comes along about once in a decade. We hope to build on these encouraging early studies.”
This research is part of Manchester University’s work to tackle global inequalities.