Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Bunged-up Lungs

Sleeping sickness parasite is harboured in the lung – making this previously overlooked organ a diagnostic and treatment target

01 February 2023

Bunged-up Lungs

Sleeping sickness is a disease caused by Trypanosoma brucei parasites. Thanks to recent control efforts, there are fewer cases worldwide than there have been for 80 years. The World Health Organisation aims to make sleeping sickness the second eradicated human infectious disease by 2030. But to fix something, we have to understand it, and there are still sleeping sickness mysteries to unravel. Here, in false colours, we see lung tissue from a mouse (grey) infected with T. brucei (blue). Scientists showed for the first time that the parasite forms nests in the lungs, explaining why one in five people with sleeping sickness has a cough or difficulty breathing. T. brucei also dampens the immune system in the lungs, making people more vulnerable to other infections. These insights could help doctors to diagnose symptomless people who carry the parasite, which may help stop the spread of sleeping sickness and eliminate it sooner.

Written by Henry Stennett

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