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Probing a parasite for vulnerability

12:55pm, November 29, 2004

From Miami, Fla., at a meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene

In their quest to find a weakness in the single-celled parasite that causes African sleeping sickness, researchers have identified an enzyme that appears indispensable to the microbe's survival. Disabling this enzyme could offer a novel treatment strategy for the disease, says biochemist Theresa C. O'Brien of the University of California, San Francisco.

Sleeping sickness is caused by the bite of a tsetse fly carrying the protozoan Trypanosoma brucei. Earlier work showed that a compound called Z-Phe-Ala-CHN2 could kill the microbe in a lab dish. This compound is known to inhibit protein-chopping enzymes called proteases. Although scientists suspected that protease inhibition killed T. brucei, the compound's specific target was unknown.

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