COLUMBUS, Ohio – A researcher in The Ohio State University College of Medicine at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center has received $4.25 million in grant funding to develop the first parasite vaccine to treat a neglected tropical disease that impacts people around the world, including in the United States.
More than 12 million people suffer from leishmaniasis, a tropical disease that causes significant tissue destruction and disfigurement and can be life-threatening. The disease is spread by infected sand flies and animals, mainly dogs. The most life-threatening form of the disease is visceral leishmaniasis, which is the second most fatal parasitic infection after malaria.
The Wellcome Trust, an independent global charitable foundation based in the United Kingdom, awarded Dr. Abhay Satoskar a $650,000 two-year Innovator Award to fund testing of a vaccine for visceral leishmanisis in dogs. In addition, a $3.6 million grant from the Global Health Innovative Technology (GHIT) Fund in Japan, which focuses on the global fight against infectious diseases and poverty in the developing world, will support the manufacture of clinical grade materials as Satoskar’s team prepares to start human trials.
“Our research team has been able to generate genetically-modified live, weakened leishmaniasis parasites that have been proven safe and effective at inducing protective immunity against infection in preclinical studies,” said Satoskar, a professor in the Division of Experimental Pathology at Ohio State’s College of Medicine and professor in the Department of Microbiology at the College of Arts and Sciences. “The dogs in our trials have had the immune response we expected, so I believe we have a good shot at a human prophylactic vaccine as well as a vaccine for dogs to reduce their risk as carriers.”
Leishmaniasis is most common in Africa, the Middle East, Asia and South America. In the United States, the majority of human-acquired cases are in Texas where sand flies and animals known to harbor leishmaniasis are found. The remaining U.S. cases are due to international travel and immigration. The full impact of the disease in the U.S. is unknown because reporting is only mandatory in Texas, and clinical recognition of leishmaniasis among American doctors is low.
“Dr. Satoskar’s research has placed a spotlight on a pressing global health issue,” said Dr. K. Craig Kent, dean of the College of Medicine. “He has dedicated his career to the elimination of leishmaniasis and these funding awards will further his research efforts.”
Satoskar’s international research partners include the National Institutes of Health, Nagasaki University, Gennova Biopharmaceuticals Ltd., The Royal Institute for the Advancement of Learning/McGill University, Institut Pasteur de Tunis, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Johns Hopkins University, and Rajendra Memorial Institute for Medical Research, India.