Area scientists work on cure for boils
AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREGame Center: Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, 10 a.m.Roughly 1,300 troops have been bitten by the bug and infected with a disease called leishmaniasis, nicknamed the “Baghdad boil” because it causes large, ugly sores. Another form of the disease isn’t as painful to look at, but it is lethal. A team of scientists from LA BioMed at County Harbor-UCLA Medical Center is working to find a cure for the disease, which has become a priority of the Department of Defense, government officials say. Cynthia Smith, spokeswoman for the Defense Department, said four of the troops have so far been diagnosed with the deadly visceral form of the parasitic disease, which causes anemia and swelling of the spleen and liver. The majority of cases in the United States are of the milder variety but still vexing – victims develop fleshy sores that usually heal on their own in six months to two years. “We still don’t know a lot about it,” said Dr. Noah Craft, who is leading the team of researchers at the research institute near Torrance. “There are no easy tests to discover (the visceral form) and no great treatments.” Craft first encountered the parasite as a medical student working in Brazil seven years ago. The disease is prevalent in tropical and desert regions of the world, including South America, Southeast Asia and the Middle East. An estimated 12 million people in 88 countries have been diagnosed with the disease, and about 2 million new cases are diagnosed annually, according to the World Health Organization. It is second only to malaria as the leading cause of death from parasitic disease. With the exception of troops and foreign travelers, the parasite is rare in the United States, but there have been reports of the fly migrating to southern parts of Texas; scientists say it could become more common as global temperatures rise. Still, it is not enough of a concern here to attract mass amounts of research money from the government, and finding a vaccination wouldn’t be a lucrative investment for private pharmaceutical companies, said Dr. Brad Spellberg, also an LA BioMed researcher and leading member of the Infectious Diseases Society of America. Craft is still waiting for grant funding; for now, the team is working on a cure using grant money from other sources. Researchers are exploring both a vaccine that may prevent the disease and a treatment for those already infected. One of remedies being developed would act similar to a flu shot – people would be given a form of the disease so that they become immune. Another possible treatment involves altering the chemistry of the actual parasite, so that when ingested it immunizes the person but is unable to multiply and destroy organs. Researchers are still about two years away from clinical trials, Craft said. Those now diagnosed with the disease are given poisonous drugs with nasty, sometimes life-threatening side effects. Those with liver or immune system deficiencies often can’t tolerate the current remedy. The treatment is worse in places like the Middle East, scientists say. Because facial scarring that develops when the boils heal is so socially paralyzing, babies are often purposely infected with the parasite so that they develop immunity early with less visible scarring. Victims can develop boils in the mucus membranes and all over the skin where the bug bites them. There are no immediate symptoms with the more deadly form of the disease – when they do arise, it’s usually too late, Craft said. It could be months or years before infected troops are diagnosed. All of the troops so far have been treated successfully, Smith, the defense spokeswoman, said in a written statement. Since becoming more aware of the danger, military officials have urged troops to use bug repellent, wear specially treated uniforms and sleep in enclosures or in bed nets, Smith said. Troops, however, aren’t routinely tested for leishmaniasis when they return. For those who are infected, a cure is still elusive. The fact remains that in times of war, “we suddenly have to understand and deal with the problems of that country,” Craft said. firstname.lastname@example.org 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! MEDICINE: As more U.S. troops are infected, LA BioMed team is also focusing on a vaccine to prevent the disease. By Melissa Evans STAFF WRITER In addition to dodging bullets and fighting insurgents, U.S. troops stationed in the Middle East have another enemy to worry about: the sand fly.