ISSN 2330-717X

EU-Funded Scientists Hone Superparasite Detection Skills

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(CORDIS) — An international team of EU-funded scientists has made a significant breakthrough in molecular biology research on microbial pathogens.

Writing in the Journal of Infectious Diseases, the researchers, from Belgium, Germany, India, Nepal, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States, report on their successful completion of the genome of Leishmania donovani, a parasite that causes leishmaniasis, one of the most important tropical diseases after malaria.

Leishmania donovani in bone marrow cell.
Leishmania donovani in bone marrow cell.

Leishmania is a unicellular parasite that is transmitted through the bite of sandflies and occurs mainly in Asia, east Africa, Latin America and countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea.

After completing the Leishmania genome, the team identified a series of mutations specific to ‘superparasites’ and developed a simple estimation that will allow them to be better tracked wherever they are. Superparasites in the Indian sub-continent tend to be drug resistant and at the same time also better equipped to cope with our immune system.

Depending on the severity of the case, leishmaniasis can lead to deadly visceral disease. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that there are up to 1.6 million new cases of leishmaniasis every year, and for the most part it is the poorest populations which are affected by the disease.

The study was supported by two EU-funded research projects: LeishNatDrug-R (‘Molecular tools for monitoring emergence and spreading of drug resistance among natural populations of leishmania’) which received EUR 1,200,000 of funding under the ‘Programme for research, technological development and demonstration’ of the Fifth Framework Programme (FP5) and Kaladrug-R (‘New tools for monitoring drug resistance and treatment response in visceral leishmaniasis in the Indian subcontinent’) which received EUR 299,999 of funding under the Health Theme of the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7).

Lead study author Dr Manu Vanaerschot from the Institute of Tropical Medicine Antwerp, in Belgium comments: ‘Thanks to the discovery of these mutations, made possible through funding by the European Commission, the spread and emergence of these drug resistant parasites can be more efficiently monitored, contributing to a better and more adequate control of the parasite and the disease it causes.’

‘We hope that this finding will ultimately pave the way to a field applicable drug resistance detection device not only for pentavalent antimonials but for all antileishmanial drugs. This is an important breakthrough which will help immensely in the control of the menace of leishmaniasis,’ says another study author, Shyam Sundar from the Banaras Hindu University, in India.

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