TUESDAY, June 17, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- A new compound that may lead to an inexpensive, easy-to-take treatment for diarrhea has been discovered by researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.
This finding may prove especially important for developing countries, where diarrhea is a major cause of child deaths. Diarrhea kills an estimated 1.6 million to 2.5 million children a year, according to information published by the World Health Organization.
The new compound -- a pyridopyrimidine derivative -- targets E. coli and other enterotoxigenic strains of bacteria that cause acute secretory diarrhea. These bacteria produce toxins that stimulate the linings of the intestines, causing them to secrete excessive fluid, resulting in diarrhea.
In preclinical tests on animals infected with diarrhea-causing bacteria, the new compound was associated with a significant reduction in intestinal fluid secretion. The compound also reduced fluid build-up in laboratory tests on human cells. There was no indication of toxicity caused by the compound.
The research was published in the June 16 online edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"While this research looks extremely promising as a preventive or therapeutic intervention in Third World diarrheal disease and traveler's diarrhea, much work remains to be done to move into clinical trials and eventual therapeutic approval," study senior author Dr. Ferid Murad cautioned in a prepared statement.
A drug based on this compound may also prove effective in treating inflammatory bowel disease and some endocrine disorders, Murad said.
The discovery of this compound is "a promising lead," said Dr. Stanley G. Schultz, a cellular signaling expert at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston who was not involved in the study.
"An inexpensive drug that could block the intestinal secretory pathway, with minimal side effects, would be a 'magic bullet' that would not only save millions of lives in many parts of the developing world, but would also save the billions of dollars that are lost annually because of diarrhea throughout the world. It would truly be a treatment of diarrhea rather than a treatment of the consequences of diarrhea," Schultz said in a prepared statement.
Currently, there is no effective way to directly treat secretory diarrhea. Treatment is aimed at minimizing fluid loss through intravenous or oral rehydration.
The American College of Gastroenterology has more about diarrheal diseases.