Smelly camel urine could provide the key to finding a treatment for sleeping sickness, a potentially fatal illness that impacts thousands of people in Africa every year, according to scientists at Trinity College Dublin.

The researchers have discovered that the parasite which causes sleeping sickness also causes camel urine to be particularly putrid smelling.

By isolating a metabolic by-product of the trypanosome parasite found in the urine, the biochemists think they may have found a foundation for anti-trypanosome drugs and treatments.

The team, led by Professor in Biochemistry at TCD Derek Nolan, in collaboration with Professor of Biochemistry Luke O'Neill, found the bugs break down amino acids, in the process creating an by product known as indolepyruvate which suppresses immune response.

The trypansomoe parasite is transmitted by biting flies, including the tsetse, and is expert at avoiding the immune defences of the animals that host them, including humans.

As a result, it is not possible to vaccinate against them, and treatments are limited.

"The advantage for the parasite of excreting indolepyruvate is that it modulates the inflammatory and immune responses of the host, especially at the peaks of infection," said Professor Nola.

"This prolongs host survival and thereby potentiates the transmission of the parasite to the tsetse fly, which ensures it can complete its life cycle."

It is hoped scientists will now take the information and begin working on potential therapies for sleeping sickness, which the World Health Organisation estimates could affect around 20,000 people a year across 36 countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

In the initial phase of infection, it causes fever, headaches, joint pains and itching, but as it develops it attacks the central nervous system, causing confusion, sensory disturbance, poor co-ordination and sleep disturbance.

The research findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.