Belgian scientists of the Institute of Tropical Medicine (ITM) in Antwerp, Belgium made a breakthrough in bridging high tech molecular biology research on microbial pathogens and the needs of the poorest of the poor. After sequencing the complete genome of Leishmania donovani (a parasite causing one of the most important tropical diseases after malaria) in hundreds of clinical isolates, they identified a series of mutations specific of 'superparasites' and developed a simple assay that should allow tracking them anywhere. This EU-funded research was done in collaboration with the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in UK and clinical partners of the Banaras Hindu University (India) and the BP Koirala Institute of Health Sciences (Nepal); it is published in the last issue of the Journal of Infectious Diseases.
Leishmania is a unicellular parasite that is transmitted through the bite of sandflies and occurs mainly in Latin-America, East-Africa, Asia and countries around the Mediterranean Sea. The parasite causes a disease called leishmaniasis which can range from self-healing cutaneous to deadly visceral disease, depending on the infecting species. Recently, the World Health Organisation estimated up to 1,6 million of new cases of leishmaniasis every year, affecting essentially the poorest of the poor. In comparison to these figures, the hundreds of imported cases reported among travelers appear a drop of water in the ocean. Some of these parasites are more dangerous than others, among them those causing visceral leishmaniasis, a clinical form which is lethal in the absence of treatment.
Recently, the same group of scientists reported among these (already) dangerous microbes, the existence of 'superparasites' in the Indian sub-continent, which are drug resistant and at the same time also better equipped to cope with our immune system. To our knowledge, it is the first time such a doubly armed organism is found in nature. (see "Do
|Contact: Jean-Claude Dujardin|
Institute of Tropical Medicine Antwerp