White-nose syndrome in bats
IN PHOTO: A hibernating brown bat with a white muzzle typical of white-nose syndrome is seen in this undated handout photograph released on March 31, 2011. America's bats are dying in their hundreds of thousands due to a mysterious illness called white-nose syndrome, and efforts to save them could prevent billions of dollars in agricultural losses, scientists say. Reuters/U.S. Geological Survey/Greg Turner

Drugs commonly used as HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C treatment can also be used to treat a disease in bats, according to a new study. Six million bats across North America are affected by the deadly white-nose syndrome, and the new study provides hope that there is treatment for the disease.

The May 5 published study found in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that the same drugs used to treat HIV/AIDS may have potential to treat white-nose syndrome in bats. The disease is caused by a white fungus that infects a bat’s ears, wings and skin on the muzzle.

Protease inhibitors like HIV drugs have shown to work against the fungus. Proteases are damaging enzymes that contribute to the production of new functional viral particles.

According to a report from Discovery News, co-author of the study Richard Bennett said that the research suggests proteases have a role in spreading infection, so giving protease inhibitors will help combat the fungus.

Bennet and colleagues discovered “Destructin-1”, an enzyme secreted by the fungus that attacks collagen in animals. The researchers also found that chymostatin inhibits the activity of this enzyme, thereby producing a 77 percent reduction rate in collagen damage.

White-nose syndrome is caused by the fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructan. It is a disease that affects millions of bats in North America and is known to target hibernating bats.

The fungal infection causes discomfort among the resting bats and consequently awakens them from slumber. The bats fly around in the caves, expending their stored body fats that are supposed to be used for hibernating. This eventually results in emaciation.

While researchers found that a protease inhibitor can help control the spread of the fungus, they are still puzzled as to why the reduction rate was not at 100 percent. Researchers suspect that Destructin-1 alone did not do most of the collagen damage. As Discovery News reports, Bennett said “there is more to discover.”

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