Using state-of-the-art technology to treat neglected tropical diseases

using mass spectrometry in the lab

Leishmaniasis is a devastating and poorly understood disease that disproportionately affects poor people in remote communities. In Colombia, cutaneous leishmaniasis is the most common form of the disease. Symptoms include swollen glands and skin lesions which are disfiguring and slow to heal. Left untreated it can lead to more serious, life-threatening disease.

High-tech research approaches that have revolutionised much medical research have not been readily applied to neglected tropical diseases. Seeking to change this, researchers from the UK and Colombia are harnessing the power of ‘omic’ based technologies to improve treatment and outcomes for people infected with the disease.

Biomarkers – molecules, genes, or characteristics that indicate the presence or severity of disease in the body – play a critical role in disease diagnosis and treatment. Recent omic technologies, such as proteomics (the study of proteins) and metabolomics (the study of small molecules), are rapidly accelerating the rate of biomarker discovery.

Using metabolomics, scientists will be able to show how children infected with the disease respond to miltefosine, the only oral drug registered for treatment of cutaneous leishmanisis. The results of this research will provide urgently needed evidence to support appropriate and personalised therapeutic interventions for children.

So far, more than 100 Colombian researchers have received training in the application of omic technologies to neglected tropical diseases. The project also benefits UK researchers who can apply their expertise, infrastructure and resources for technology driven biomedical research in affected countries.

I have worked on Leishmaniasis throughout my research career. Of all the projects on which I have worked, this is the one with the most obvious potential to have a positive effect on populations that are affected by this devastating and poorly understood disease.

Richard Burchmore, Senior Lecturer, University of Glasgow

Linking the power of omic technologies to translational research on neglected tropical diseases

Project leads: Richard Burchmore, Senior Lecturer, University of Glasgow and Maria Adelaida Gomez, Coordinator, Molecular Biology and Biochemistry Unit, CIDEIM

Delivery partners: British Council and The International Training and Medical Research Center (CIDEIM)

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