University of Glasgow scientists headed by Professor Peter Kennedy, have produced a new pill to treat sleeping sickness that avoids the risks of death caused by conventional intravenous drugs. 

Image of the Kenyan Nyaza Province tsetse-fly clearing provided by the National Archive

Researchers in the University's Institute of Infection, Immunity & Inflammation have created a safer version of the drug by combining melarsoprol with cyclodextrins molecules that surround it.  This allows the treatment to be administered orally which increases the drugs solubility and releases it more slowly in the gut.

'Melarsoprol is very effective at killing the parasites but, when given intravenously, it probably does this too quickly, which is in part why we think it is so dangerous.  By controlling the rate of release of the drug with this new oral formulation, we believe we make it safer,”  Professor Kennedy said.

Sleeping sickness, or trypanosomiasis is passed to humans by the tsetse flies carrying the trypanosome parasite. The infection, that can last for years before it enters the brain causing inflammation, swelling and death.  Endemic in thirty-six sub-Saharan countries, it is thought that 60 million people are at risk of infection. 

The University said that this new research is the most clinically important in the 20 years of our trypanosome research group. It has the potential of a major therapeutic advance and would also have a significant socio-economic impact because the duration of inpatient treatment would be shorter.

Sleeping sickness is nearly always fatal if left untreated.  Once the disease has crossed the blood-brain barrier and entered the central nervous system the most commonly used treatment is an intravenous course of the arsenic-based drug melarsoprol.  Treatment is protracted, excruciatingly painful and frequently fatally toxic.  It is estimated that 30,000 people are currently infected.

"Melarsoprol has a low solubility in water, it is dissolved in propylene glycol and administered intravenously. The result is a highly toxic drug that kills 5% of patients receiving it and leaves many others permanently brain-damaged.  This new research is the most clinically important in the 20 years of our trypanosome research group. It has the potential of a major therapeutic advance and would also have a significant socio-economic impact because the duration of inpatient treatment would be shorter and some patients might even be eventually treated at home," Professor Kennedy said.

The research is supported by the Medical Research Council and requires additional funding in order to progress to trials in Uganda.

 


The Guardian’s 2012 University Guide league table makes Cambridge the number 1 UK university knocking Oxford off the top spot it has held since 2006.

Image by: Laura Martell

Scotland’s first university, St Andrews is ranked the third best UK university with the London School of Economics climbing four places to take fourth.

The guide is put together by ranking universities according to how much they spend on each student; the ratio of students to staff, their graduate’s career prospects, plus a “value-added score” that compares first-years academic results with and their final degree award.  Before finalising the university rankings the guide also includes data provided by the annual National Student Survey which asks students how content full-time undergraduates are with their courses. 

With 2012 being the first that students face higher tuition fees the university league table is likely to be scrutinised more than ever before.   Naturally, students will be comparing university ranking with the size of their tuition fees before deciding which university to attend.  Unsurprisingly, those institutions at the top of the university league table will charge students £9000.00 per annum, but according to research undertaken by the  Guardian newspaper, the low ranking universities are “almost as likely”  to charge the maximum tuition fees allowed by the government.

London Metropolitan University, which came bottom of the Guardian tables, plans to charge between £4,500 and £9,000 each year for its degree courses with Liverpool John Moores, Manchester Metropolitan and the University of East London (which all rank in the bottom 20) planning to charge students maximum annual fees for some of their courses. 

Not all ranked universities intend to sting students, however and “the first university that proposes to charge less than £9,000 for all of its courses is the University of Sunderland, which is ranked 48th. There are a total of 120 institutions in the tables: 38 in the top half intend to charge £9,000 for at least some of their courses, while 18 in the bottom half propose to do the same.” The Guardian said.

More about the 2012 Guardian University Guide