Call edition 2012
A new edition of the Prize of the Belgian Development Cooperation has been launched. This call is open until March 31st, 2011. You can read in the regulations whether you comply with the criteria for participation.
The distended bellies of children we sometimes see in pictures of the developing countries are usually caused by a parasite known as Leishmania, which is passed on by sand flies (visceral leishmaniasis). Once this stage has been reached the untreated disease is usually fatal. Southern Europe is also affected by leishmaniasis, but to a lesser degree. As is the case with many medicines, there is a gradually increasing resistance to treatment and huge efforts have to be made to prevent infection.
This prize-winning work is very important in determining strategies to control this fatal disease, providing tools in the fight against the disease to facilitate more efficient prevention. Preventive measures are aimed at dealing with the source of the disease. Visceral leishmaniasis can be passed on by various types of parasites, Leishmania infantum or Leishmania chagasi in Europe, Asia and Latin America, where dogs are usually the host and Leishmania donovani or Leishmania archibaldi in Africa and parts of Asia where man is generally the host. We see both groups in North East Africa and the Middle East but it is not clear which species are responsible for the endemic visceral leishmaniasis. It is, therefore, not known which preventive measures need to be taken in the Sudan, for example, to prevent the occurrence of this disease. Should one concentrate on the dogs or should prevention be directed at man?
The present classification of these parasites is based on multilocus enzyme electrophoresis. However, this classification technique does not allow one to follow the epidemiology or chart the connection between the different strains. Dr Kelly Wilber Quispe Tintaya’s work focused on developing new techniques which can be used in classification, diagnosis and epidemiology alike. To this end he developed several advanced genetic test methods that were able to do this, as well as immediately allowing more extensive research into the disease. He then perfected several of these tests as routine detection techniques and applied them to samples of dogs and humans from Europe and East Africa.
During his research, Dr Kelly Wilber Quispe Tintaya discovered that the present classification system does not correspond with the genetic kinship of the strains. In Sudan especially, the genetic diversity is so great that it was possible to postulate the hypothesis that it is from this region that these parasites originate; however this needs to be confirmed by further study. On the other hand it was possible to refute the former classification which showed that three species of Leishmania were responsible for visceral leishmaniasis in the Sudan (L. infantum, L. donovani and L. archibaldi). According to the prize-winning work, only the L. donovani is related to the disease in the Sudan, and its mutations in the divergent Sudanese L. donovani are responsible for the incorrect classification using the enzymatic method. Consequently, preventive policy in the Sudan must focus on the human carrier. Research also suggests that problematic classifications in other parts of the world, such as Latin America, probably hamper efficient prevention and treatment policy.
With this new classification and epidemiological insights, and with these new diagnostic tests, this work has made an enormous contribution to winning the fight against visceral leishmaniasis. Several aspects of this work have been published in various articles including some in the prestigious Journal of Infectious Diseases.
report: Prof. A.-M. Vandamme, Laboratory for Clinical and Epidemiological Virology, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium