New basic research projects to underpin new innovations for Leishmania elimination

Leishmaniasis is a neglected tropical disease, spread by sandfly bites. Its most common form in people is cutaneous leishmaniasis, which causes painful skin sores, and visceral leishmaniasis, which affects internal organs and is lethal if left untreated. Visceral leishmaniasis is the second-largest parasitic killer in the world after malaria, responsible for 30,000 deaths each year.

In 2021, the Research Foundation Flanders (FWO) awarded a grant to ITM scientists to study quiescence in L. donovani, the parasite responsible for visceral leishmaniasis. Quiescence is a survival strategy adopted by several pathogens which renders parasites less susceptible to chemotherapy and allows them to survive for years unnoticed in the host organism, complicating clinical management and jeopardising elimination programmes. By understanding the mechanisms behind quiescence and its role in parasite adaptation to environmental insults, the researchers in LeishQ aim to provide knowledge and tools paving the way for future clinical studies on novel treatment or vaccine strategies. 

Cutaneous leishmaniasis manifestations range from self-healing skin ulcers to diffusely spread chronic lesions. In a new study financed by the Dioraphte Foundation, researchers aim to, for the first time, track the L. aethiopica parasite in its spatial environment and make a comprehensive ecological picture on where the parasite is residing in the skin of patients and how it is escaping or adapting to our immune response, and how all this is influencing the clinical presentation. This study will be instrumental in finding new and warranted targets for therapy. The Spatial CL consortium is lead by ITM and includes the University of Gondar (Ethiopia), University of York (UK), and Maastricht University (NL).