Scientists Look for New Cure to “Sleeping Sickness”

March 14, 2012

Unlocking Word Meanings
Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

1. parasite (n.) – a creature that lives inside or on the body of another living thing (such as a plant or animal), usually causing harm
Example Fleas are parasites that live on a dog’s skin and can make a dog feel itchy.

2. function (n.) – a specific purpose for which something is used
Example: A train’s function is to take people and objects to faraway places.

3. fatal (adj.) – deadly
Example:  No one survived the fatal car accident.

4.  manipulate (v.) – to skillfully use or change something to get a desired result
Example: The graphic artist manipulates photos on the computer to make them look better.

5. toxic (adj.) – poisonous; dangerous for health
Example:  Factories cannot dump toxic waste in our city’s rivers.

Read the text below.

Scientists have found a way to kill the parasite that causes “sleeping sickness” in many regions in Africa.

“Sleeping Sickness is caused by a parasite called “trypanosome” which is carried by some tsetse fly species in Africa. It is passed on to the human bloodstream through the fly’s bite.

After some time inside the human body, the parasite affects the brain and its functions. People become unable to think properly, lose control of parts of their bodies, and sleep during the day instead of at night—thus the disease is referred to as the “sleeping sickness.” The disease is also fatal, if no medical treatment is done.

However, At the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp, Belgium, researchers found that bacteria living inside the tsetse fly can be used to fight the trypanosome parasite. After researchers manipulated the genes, the said bacteria produced pieces of defense proteins, known as nanobodies, which attacked the parasite also living inside the fly.

This study comes after years of searching for ways to fight the trypanosome parasite. The medicine currently used to cure sleeping sickness was developed 50 years ago, and is made from a chemical similar to arsenic, which is toxic. When injected into the blood, the medicine makes patients feel severe pain, said to be like “fire in the veins.” Effects from the strong medicine even cause death in 5% to 20% of patients.

The World Health Organization estimates that 50,000 people suffer from sleeping sickness. But doctors are hopeful that the new study will lead to the creation of better medicine that has the same effect as the bacteria’s nanobodies.

Viewpoint Discussion
Enjoy a discussion with your tutor. 

Discussion A 

·         Should scientists around the world help find cures for local diseases like “sleeping sickness”? Why or why not?
·         How can ordinary people help stop the spread of diseases caused by insects?

Discussion B

·         What could be the reasons why some people avoid having medical treatment?
·         Do you think it is important that medical treatment is painless? Why or why not?


March 14, 2012