Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Iron-clad Infections
19 January 2016

Iron-clad Infections

Twelve million people worldwide are affected by leishmaniasis – a serious disease that causes painful skin ulcers, and can prove fatal if left untreated. The culprits are the tiny parasites in this image, each just a few thousands of a millimetre across. They’re transmitted by sandfly bites and mainly affect people living in Africa and India. At the moment there’s no vaccine against the disease, and doctors are running out of options for cheap, effective treatments, while those that they do have cause unpleasant side effects. But a new approach could be on the horizon. Scientists have discovered that the parasites depend on the metal iron to generate the energy they need to stay alive, shuttling it into their molecular ‘power plants’ – structures called mitochondria – with a special transporter protein. Without it they die, suggesting that drugs that block the transporter might be a completely new way of controlling leishmaniasis infections.

Written by Kat Arney

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