A drug already available throughout the world with expatriate medical insurance policies could potentially fight fungal meningitis, a study has indicated.
Research led by Texas A&M University biologists found antidepressant medication sertraline hydrochloride – which is trademarked as Lustral or Zoloft – could have the ability to inhibit these potentially fatal infections.
The study, which was published in the journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, found that sertraline was particularly effective in combating Cryptococcus neoformans, which is a dangerous fungal pathogen that is the main cause of cryptococcal meningitis or systemic cryptococcosis.
Globally, more than 500,000 people die from this condition every year and while the pathogen generally colonises the lungs and is asymptomatic, it can spread around the body in individuals with weakened immune systems.
When it reaches the spinal cord and brain, it can result in the fungal meningitis forming, which will prove fatal without adequate treatment.
Many international healthcare facilities have to deal with C. neoformans, as it is found in soil in a number of countries.
However, when mice were infected with systemic cryptococcosis, sertraline was found to combat infection in a similar way to that seen in anti-fungal medication fluconazole, while when the two medications were used in combination, the protective effect was greater than that seen by either drug in isolation.
Sertraline could reduce the fungal burden held by infected bodies, lead investigator and assistant professor of biology Xiaorong Lin said, pointing out it also can cross the blood-brain barrier in its use as an anti-depressant.
"The problem for many current antifungal drugs is that many cannot go to the brain and it's very difficult for a lot of compounds to reach the brain in the first place," he remarked.
"If there is a drug that already exists, is known to be well-tolerated and has alternative uses, that's a good thing," professor of biology Matthew Sachs stated, adding: "The billion dollars it would take to bring a drug to the market – that's already done."