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Comparison of different methods for the detection of Mycobacterium ulcerans in and around the Ga district in Ghana

Miriam EDDYANI student laureate

°1978 Belgium
Licence in biomedical sciences, Universiteit Antwerpen, Belgium, 2002

Vergelijking van verschillende methoden voor de detectie van Mycobacterium ulcerans in de omgeving van het Ga district in Ghana

Miriam Eddyani’s work is to be situated in the context of the struggle against Buruli’s ulcer, a terrible tropical disease, which has become increasingly widespread in tropical regions. The agent responsible for this condition, which owes its name to the presence of deep and, in some cases, extensive ulcerations of the skin, is Mycobacterium ulcerans, a bacterium belonging to the family of slow-growing pathogenic mycobacteria, which are also responsible for conditions such as tuberculosis and leprosy.
Although it still receives inadequate recognition, Buruli’s ulcer has become a major public health problem in many tropical countries. It is thus an emerging infection whose spread may result from changes in the environment following development projects or local hydrological changes, as epidemiological data suggests that the germ pool may be associated with swamps and slow-moving or stagnant waters.
In order to confirm this data about the germ pool of Mycobacterium ulcerans, Miriam Eddyani has used techniques from molecular biology in an attempt to detect the presence of the pathogenic agent in water, fish and aquatic insects in the Ga district of Ghana. These initial tests have demonstrated the presence of Mycobacterium ulcerans DNA in fish, snails, aquatic insects, a species of spider and a species of crayfish, providing clear evidence of the existence of an environmental reservoir for Mycobacterium ulcerans.
The approach is interesting and courageous. A real cooperative effort is involved, with a transfer of know-how. This type of project should lead to improvements in the prevention of this disease, which is so harmful to various peoples in the South, and for which no satisfactory medical treatment or vaccine exists. If better knowledge existed of the reservoir and transmission cycle of this bacterium, we would probably be in a better position to tackle its adverse effects. The economic impact of its spread is an obstacle to the development of populations where the disease is endemic.

report by Prof. J. Content, Molecular Biology, Institut Pasteur de Bruxelles, Belgium