A leading scientist at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, Dr Mark Taylor, has helped identify a new drug treatment for the disfiguring disease lymphatic filariasis, also known as elephantiasis.
The distressing condition, caused by filarial worms entering the patient's blood stream, is transmitted by mosquitoes. The infection leads to gross swelling of the legs and genital areas. Anti-worm drugs are used to treat the disease by killing most of the worm's larval stage in the blood but they have little or no effect on the adult worms which cause the conditions leading to the swelling, nor do they halt the progression of the symptoms once the disease has developed.
Following trials in Ghana, Dr Taylor and an international team of scientists from Bonn and Ghana have established that an antibiotic, doxycycline, which attacks the bacteria inside the worm, not only kills adult worms but also helps to relieve the symptoms in those who have already developed the disease. Their study was financed by the European Union and their findings are published in the Public Library of Science online journal PLoS Pathogens (http://www.plos.org).
Dr. Taylor explained: “The important breakthrough with this trial is to show that in addition to the anti-parasitic effects of antibiotic treatment, we can also improve the lives of individuals suffering from the stigmatizing elephantiasis. We have also shown that a shorter course of antibiotic is effective at killing the adult worms, which are responsible for causing the disease.
“One of the problems with antibiotic treatment is that a course of treatment takes six weeks. However, this is unlikely to deter those with overt clinical disease as they will be eager to prevent the constant suffering they have to endure. We are hopeful that this advance could be integrated into current control programmes to bring a direct benefit to those who suffer most from this disease.”
This is one of several landmark discoveries made by Dr Taylor and the Liverpool team in the prevention and treatment of lymphatic filariasis, which is a leading cause of global disability and often leads to social isolation, loss of employment and self esteem.
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