Not many people in the United States think about the tsetse fly, much less the sleeping sickness infection it carries.
But in 37 countries in sub-Saharan Africa — a footprint of land as big as the U.S. — the disease infects hundreds of thousands of people each year and puts a stranglehold on the impoverished region’s economy.
Domesticated animals also die from the parasite, which delivers a tremendous blow to the agricultural economies of these countries because they can’t raise livestock to sell.
“No other disease that I know of can affect the ecology of an entire continent the way this does,” said Zac Mackey, an assistant professor of biochemistry in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and an affiliated faculty member with the Fralin Life Science Institute. Mackey is investigating new ways to develop drugs to combat the sleeping sickness parasite.