Using technology to treat tropical diseases

Issued: Mon, 15 Oct 2018 14:33:00 BST

Dr Richard Burchmore, from the Institute of Infection, Immunity and Inflammation, has been shortlisted for the 2018 Newton Prize, which is awarded for research projects which promote the economic development and social welfare of Newton partner countries

Dr Burchmore’s project harnesses the power of ‘omic’-based technologies to improve treatment and outcomes for people infected with Leishmaniasis.

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 with symptoms including swollen glands and skin lesions which are disfiguring and slow to heal. Left untreated it can lead to more serious, life-threatening diseases.

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 omics technologies, such as proteomics and metabolomics, 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.

As a result of this Newton-funded collaboration, more than 100 Colombian researchers have been trained 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.

Dr Burchmore said: “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 understod disease.”