Ohio State Establishes East African Tropical Medicine Research Center in Collaboration with NIAID

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Battling the spread of leishmaniasis, a parasitic disease, Ohio State has joined forces with researchers around the world. Credit: Dr Abhay Satoskar

Ohio State has joined forces with international researchers to fight the spread of a parasitic disease through a virtual center for tropical medicine research in East Africa, said co-lead researcher, Dr. Abhay Satoskar.

The researchers aim to prevent a disease caused by a parasitic infection called leishmaniasis, said Satoskar, professor of pathology and administration of microbiology. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, depending on the form, leishmaniasis can cause skin lesions or damage to internal organs. It can affect up to 350 million people every year worldwide, according to the National Library of Medicine.

Satoskar said the center will continue development and testing of a leishmaniasis vaccine, which was designed by researchers and collaborators from Ohio State in East Africa.

Satoskar said this research will seek to stop the spread of the disease in endemic countries, which are those primarily affected by the disease, where human populations live in rural areas or have close contact with animals – such as Kenya. , Ethiopia, Sudan and Somalia.

According to a Press release, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases gave Ohio State $2.2 million for the research center of its Tropical Medicine Research Program. The funding will be used to build the capacity of scientists in each of the endemic countries as well as to plan for the long-term containment of this disease. The program has been running since 1991, but this is the first year that the application was open to scientists outside the home regions.

The aim of the research center is to investigate the causes of the spread and the vectors – infected organisms – responsible for infecting human populations – including sandflies, which spread leishmaniasis at dangerous rates in regions rural, Satoskar said.

Satoskar said he has researched and treated leishmaniasis in many endemic areas of the world that have a limited supply of resources and treatments.

“These diseases affect millions and billions of people, but no one cares because they don’t affect the wealthy. It affects the poor,” Satoskar said.

Satoskar said the research has led to new therapies and technologies that are believed to curb the spread and treat the effects of leishmaniasis. Ohio State scientists used gene-editing technology, called CRISPR, to develop the world’s first leishmaniasis vaccine, which will begin clinical trials in 2023, he said.

The center also aims to educate local communities about the infectious disease while training students from East Africa and Ohio State in leishmaniasis research, Satoskar said.

“It’s not like we’re going there to enjoy it, really, we do a lot of education and capacity building with the Ohio State students who go there and we also train people locally,” Satoskar said.

Satoskar said he wanted the center to train promising female scientists from the region to become leaders in the field, including co-principal investigator Dr. Damaris Matoke-Muhia from the Kenya Institute of Medical Research.

“I think it will be great to have the empowerment of women in this region because women are oppressed in a lot of these countries,” Satoskar said. “And after five years, you know, maybe they take over.”

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