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In brief

26 Feb 2010

Paul Chinnock

Source: Media reports

Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has awarded funding worth US$11.5 million for malaria research. The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI), Burnet Institute, and the University of Melbourne will investigate multiple aspects of malaria infection. Professor Cowman of WEHI said the programme would, “..explore how the parasite identifies, invades and remodels the host cells in which it lives, scavenging nutrients and hiding from the immune system. We will also investigate how the human host responds to this infection as understanding this is the key for development of efficacious vaccines. The drugs used to treat and control malaria have become increasingly ineffective due to the parasite’s ability to develop resistance. It is therefore vital we understand how the parasite is evading the lethal effect of these drugs if we are to develop new antimalarials that are more effective”. For further details see WEHI press release.

A $4.5 million grant has been awarded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to support a project to develop new models to test the ability of drugs to treat human African trypanosomiasis (HAT, sleeping sickness) in the brain. Lead investigator Professor Mike Barrett of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Molecular Parasitology, University of Glasgow, UK said the funds would be split between Glasgow and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. He explained that: “We hope to be able to reduce the amount of time required to determine the effect of a drug against parasites within the brain from in excess of six months to just a few weeks. In theory, this will mean that chemists can alter the structures of new chemicals that kill trypanosomes in ways that also optimise penetration of the brain on a much faster time scale than was previously possible”. The researchers will use a new generation of microscopes that can detect light particles emitted from trypanosomes deep within animal tissues; the light emitted from living trypanosomes diminishes as drugs kill them. Further details are available in a University of Glasgow press release.

Tsetse.org, a website that provides information to assist in the planning and implementation of programmes to control the tsetse fly, which is responsible for the transmission of HAT, has till now only been available in English. A version in French has just been launched. Many of the parts of Africa most severely affected by HAT – and by trypanosomiasis in cattle which causes heavy losses to agriculture – are in francophone nations.

A US company that specializes in the development of breath tests for the diagnosis of disease, says it has developed a test for tuberculosis, based on the production by Mycobacterium tuberculosis of a distinctive pattern of volatile organic compounds. Menssana Research Inc says it is about to publish the results of a study involving 226 patients in San Diego, London and the Philippines that show that the non-invasive test can accurately diagnose active pulmonary TB within minutes. Current TB testing basted on sputum culture is time consuming and often inaccurate. See PR Newswire.

Could insecticide-treated bednets (ITNs), known to give protection from the mosquitoes that carry malaria, also protect against other insect-borne diseases? Dr Albert Picado and colleagues at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine found in a trial that ITNs did not prevent infection with the parasites transmitted by sandfly bites that cause visceral leishmaniasis (kala-azar). He describes his work in a recent podcast.

A leading expert on infectious diseases has said that the death toll in Haiti would have been lower if the country had been better prepared to deal with the health consequences of a major disaster. Interviewed by Global Health TV, Dr David L Heymann, formerly director of WHO’s Communicable Diseases Cluster, spoke of the importance of prevention and preparedness and stressed that these issues should be borne in mind in the reconstruction of Haiti after the earthquake. (Dr Heymann is currently chairman of the board of the UK’s Health Protection Agency).

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