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Arsenic In Water Caused Drug Resistance

Arsenic contamination of drinking water in India has been implicated in the development of resistance to a drug used to treat leishmaniasis.

| November 7, 2013 | In the Lab

Asian Scientist (Nov. 7, 2013) - Arsenic contamination of water supplies may have played a significant role in the development of widespread resistance in the Indian subcontinent to an important drug used to treat leishmaniasis, the second-largest parasitic killer in the world.

Visceral leishmaniasis infects around half a million people across the world every year and close to one-in-ten of those die.

One of the main treatments for the disease is a group of drugs known as antimonial preparations. However, by the end of the 20th century their effectiveness in treating the disease in the Bihar region, which houses ninety per cent of India's leishmaniasis victims, was so low that use of the drugs was no longer recommended.

Now, in a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers have concluded that arsenic contamination of the water supply may have played a significant role in building resistance to the drugs.

"The Indian subcontinent is the only region where arsenic contamination of drinking water coexists with widespread resistance to antimonial drugs which are used to treat visceral leishmaniasis," said Professor Alan Fairlamb, the senior author of the study.

"The water supply in Bihar has been found to be affected by contamination from naturally occurring arsenic in the ground water. What we have been able to show through experiments is that arsenic contamination of water can build resistance in Leishmania parasites to antimonial treatments."

"This is important as we need to be sure of why resistance to drugs develops. Leishmaniasis is a neglected disease that has a devastating effect across the developing world and there is a desperate need for better drugs to treat it. What we cannot afford is for the existing treatments to be compromised while we search for new ones."

According to Meghan Perry, the lead author of the study, arsenic contamination of the groundwater is a serious issue in Bihar.

"Many villagers continue to drink arsenic contaminated water as they have no alternative. Knowledge of the dangers of arsenic pollution is low and mitigation projects are not reaching all of those in need," said Perry.

"Arsenic can lead to a myriad of health issues and our research adds to this long list. Community education and alternative drinking water sources are desperately needed."

The article can be found at: Perry M et al. (2013) Chronic Exposure To Arsenic In Drinking Water Can Lead To Resistance To Antimonial Drugs In A Mouse Model Of Visceral Leishmaniasis.


Source: University of Dundee; Photo: barry.pousman/Flickr/CC.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

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