A University of South Florida Health College of Public Health professor and his team of researchers have zeroed in on compounds that could one day lead to fast-acting treatments for the fatal infection caused by the brain-eating amoeba known as Naegleria fowleri.
In a study published online this month in the journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, Dr. Dennis Kyleand his fellow researchers show that the two new compounds they identified were 500 times more potent than drugs currently used to combat the amoeba’s fatal infection.
Naegleria fowleri, a free-living amoeba commonly found in warm freshwater lakes, ponds and rivers, hot springs, and poorly chlorinated pools, causes primary amoebic meningoencephalitis, or PAM. PAM is a disease that though rare, is almost always deadly. With a 97 percent fatality rate, the disease usually affects summertime swimmers or Neti pot users who get contaminated water up their noses. (They cannot get PAM by swallowing or digesting contaminated water because stomach acid kills the amoeba.)
Once in the nose, the amoeba quickly moves to the brain, where the resultant infection destroys brain tissue, often leaves afflicted patients comatose within days, and usually kills them in a little more than a week. Of 132 reported cases in the United States through 2013, only three survived, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The most recent U.S. death was that of a nine-year-old Kansas girl, an avid water skier who died last summer from PAM after swimming in several area lakes.
Despite PAM’s dire prognosis, its rarity has made it an “orphan disease” – with no concerted efforts to discover new drugs to treat people affected by it, said Dr. Kyle, a professor of global health in the USF College of Public Health.
“One of the major problems is that there have been few people working on it,” he added.
Dr. Kyle had studied Naegleria fowleri as a PhD student. In the decades that followed, his expertise and specialization took him elsewhere into antimalarial drug research and to prominent national and international positions – including as deputy director of the Division of Experimental Therapeutics for the U.S. Army’s Drug and Vaccine Development Programs; and also as the chair of the Genomics and Discovery Research Steering Committee and the Compound Evaluation Network for the World Health Organization.