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CRISPR Leveraged Against Schistosomiasis, New Molecule Leveraged Against Wolbachia & Other NTD News

News roundup

This news roundup is a collection of headlines and other items on neglected tropical diseases, and does not reflect the work or the views of the Neglected Tropical Diseases Support Center. 


GW Researcher Paul Brindley published in eLife, showing for the first time that gene-editing tool CRISPR/Cas9 can limit impact of certain parasitic diseases.


Lymphatic filariasis

Remembering Dr. CP Ramachandran (1936-2019)

NTD Support Center
“CP’s professional legacy will most readily be associated with his tremendous successes in promoting the control and elimination of LF and the neglected diseases,” said Eric Ottesen, director of the Neglected Tropical Diseases Support Center, who followed Dr. Ramachandran in his role as lymphatic filariasis chief at WHO. “He must also be remembered as a consummate educator whose own academic achievements and early work at WHO aggressively strengthened the institutions of the developing world and educated the young scientists, who in turn have become the leaders responsible for the present and future excellence of global health research in the tropics and elsewhere.”

Meet the Unbreakable Antoinette Sainfabe

The Carter Center
Sainfabe contracted lymphatic filariasis (LF) from the bites of infected mosquitoes. In 1993, the disease caused her legs to swell irreversibly to almost twice their normal size, which makes it hard to walk, hard to get and hold a job, and hard to avoid being stigmatized. It’s practically impossible to find shoes that fit, so she, like the other women in the Hope Club, her lymphatic filariasis support group, improvises with strips of Velcro to extend her sandal straps.


AWZ1066S, a highly specific anti-Wolbachia drug candidate for a short-course treatment of filariasis

W. David Hong et al.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
This first-in-class and highly potent and specific anti-Wolbachia preclinical candidate molecule, AWZ1066S, has the potential to significantly impact current global onchocerciasis and lymphatic filariasis elimination programs and reduce elimination time frames from decades to years. . . In addition to the ability to elicit efficacy after 7 d of treatment, AWZ1066 also has a faster kill rate compared with other known antibiotics tested against Wolbachia in vitro.

Short-course, oral flubendazole does not mediate significant efficacy against Onchocerca adult male worms or Brugia microfilaria

Hanna T. Sjoberg et al.
PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases
In this study, we tested whether a new oral formulation of flubendazole with improved absorption could selectively killOnchocercaadult parasites compared with circulating larval filarial parasites, using immunodeficient mouse models. Whilst injections of flubendazole mediated high levels of efficacy, five-day oral treatment, at a range of doses, did not emulate this curative effect. Oral flubendazole also did not significantly affect levels of microfilariae in the blood. After comparing levels of flubendazole in the blood following injection versus oral treatment, we conclude that a long duration, low dose of the oral formulation, for 5 weeks, would be needed to match the exposure of the drug following injection.

Onchocerciasis-associated epilepsy

M Teresa Galán-Puchades
The Lancet
In the context of the ongoing debate about the degree of responsibility of Onchocerca volvulus in human cases of epilepsy, Cédric Chesnais and colleagues support a relationship between O volvulus microfilariae and the development of epilepsy. Regarding the causes that could trigger onchocerciasis-associated epilepsy, three mechanisms have been proposed: microfilariae present in the central nervous system, the human immune response, and sleep deprivation due to intense itching. Different pathogenic capabilities of O volvulus strains, general concomitant viral, bacterial, or parasitic infections, genetic variation in how the body produces antibodies, and measles infection followed by malnutrition have also been considered as possible causes of onchocerciasis-associated epilepsy.


Gene-editing tool CRISPR/Cas9 shown to limit impact of certain parasitic diseases

For the first time, researchers at the George Washington University (GW), together with colleagues at institutes in Thailand, Australia, the U.K. and the Netherlands, and more, have successfully used the gene-editing tool CRISPR/Cas9 to limit the impact of parasitic worms responsible for schistosomiasis and for liver fluke infection, which can cause a diverse spectrum of human disease including bile duct cancer. Their findings are found in two papers published today in the journal eLife.

HIV and schistosomiasis programmes should be combined to reduce the spread of HIV

Michael Carter
Testing and treatment programmes for HIV and schistosomiasis (also known as snail fever or bilharzia) could be profitably combined in settings with a high prevalence of both infections, results of a study published in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases suggest. Retrospective research involving over 1000 HIV-serodiscordant couples in Lusaka, Zambia, showed that infection with schistosomiasis was associated with an increased risk of HIV transmission from HIV-positive to HIV-negative partners, an increased risk of HIV acquisition among women, and an increased risk of death for HIV-positive women.

Soil-Transmitted Helminthiasis

‘BITOKON’: More than half of school kids in Iloilo have worm infection

Emme Rose Santiagudo
The Daily Guardian (The Philippines)
More than 50 percent of schoolchildren in Iloilo province have parasitic worm infection, according to the Department of Health–Center for Health Development (DOH-CHD) in Western Visayas. . . As part of the National Deworming Month, DOH is advocating for an increased national and provincial mass drug administration coverages of soil-transmitted Helminthiasis to at least 85%.


Trachoma in 3 Amerindian Communities, Venezuelan Amazon, 2018

Oscar Noya-Alarcón, Maríapía Bevilacqua, and Alfonso J. Rodríguez-Morales
Center for Disease Control and Prevention
We describe 4 patients in whom trachoma was diagnosed during January–May 2018 in 3 communities in the Amazon region of southern Venezuela. All were Amerindians of the Yanomami ethnic group living near rivers in extensive, well-conserved international forest frontiers. Two cases occurred in the Yanomami community of Kuyuwiniña, Alto Caura River basin, Bolivar, and 1 case occurred in each of 2 communities of the upper Orinoco River basin of Amazonas (Oroshi and Rashakami). This country has social and environmental conditions conducive to the endemicity of this neglected tropical disease.


Is that really a neglected disease?

Matt Miles
Medical Xpress
Diseases like leishmaniasis, Chagas and rabies seem to receive relatively little attention and research activity in relation to their perceived disease burden, and have hence been considered by many to be "neglected tropical diseases (NTDs)." But is this perception accurate? In a fascinating analysis of 52 infectious diseases published recently in PNAS, Japanese researcher Yuki Furuse sought to answer this question and to rank these diseases with regard to their actual disease burden in relation to published research findings.

Mentoring in Low- and Middle-Income Countries to Advance Global Health Research

Craig R. Cohen (Guest Editor)
The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene
We believe well-trained scientists are the key to solving the most difficult global health challenges, ensuring health security from disease threats and improving access to care for those in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Today’s complex problems require multidisciplinary approaches and team science, with investigators who are equipped with sophisticated data analysis skills, expertise in ethical research, and other advanced capabilities. . . We hope this supplement will act as a catalyst for LMIC research organizations to institutionalize mentorship training and to use this publication as a guide to developing successful programs.

Ghana: Accelerating neglected tropical disease control in a setting of economic development

Peter J. Hotez, Nana-Kwadwo Biritwum, Alan Fenwick, David H. Molyneux, and Jeffrey D. Sachs
PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases
Ghana is exhibiting impressive economic gains that may compare with the growth rates expected in India or China. With economic development, there is an expectation that the prevalence and disease burden of the neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) and other poverty-related neglected diseases will decline. For some of these NTDs, new technologies, including vaccines, will be required. Health-system strengthening with mobile health-activities are expected to continue furthering NTD disease reductions, with the hope that Ghana could become the first highly populated Sub-Saharan African nation to achieve its NTD elimination targets.


Ten threats to global health in 2019

World Health Organization (WHO)
The world is facing multiple health challenges. These range from outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases like measles and diphtheria, increasing reports of drug-resistant pathogens, growing rates of obesity and physical inactivity to the health impacts of environmental pollution and climate change and multiple humanitarian crises. To address these and other threats, 2019 sees the start of the World Health Organization’s new 5-year strategic plan – the 13th General Programme of Work. This plan focuses on a triple billion target: ensuring 1 billion more people benefit from access to universal health coverage, 1 billion more people are protected from health emergencies and 1 billion more people enjoy better health and well-being. Reaching this goal will require addressing the threats to health from a variety of angles. Here are 10 of the many issues that will demand attention from WHO and health partners in 2019.

Community knowledge, attitude, and perceived stigma of leprosy amongst community members living in Dhanusha and Parsa districts

Rakesh Singh, Babita Singh, and Sharika Mahato
PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases
Strategizing the awareness programmes according to socio-demographic characteristics for enhancing the knowledge regarding leprosy cause, symptoms, transmission, prevention and treatment, can foster the positive community attitude towards leprosy affected persons. Enhancing positive attitude towards leprosy affected persons can reduce the community stigma, thus may increase their participation in the community. Positive attitude may further increase their early health seeking behaviour including their quality of life.

Karan Thapar (India): the time that dengue had the gall to get me

Pavan Srinath
The International Society for Neglected Tropical Diseases
In October 2018, Indian journalist Karan Thapar felt unwell with what he assumed was the flu. After many years living and working in India, he was surprised to be diagnosed with dengue, a disease he thought he would unlikely be affected by. This patient testimonial, first published in the Hindustan Times, charts his experiences with dengue fever, a mosquito-borne disease threatening over half of the world's population.

A protein in mosquito eggshells could be the insects’ Achilles’ heel

Tina Hesman Saey
Science News
A protein called eggshell organizing factor 1, or EOF1, is necessary for some mosquito species’ eggs and embryos to develop properly, a new study finds. Genetically disrupting production of that protein in Aedes aegypti mosquitoes caused about 60 percent of their normally dark eggshells to be pale. And shells lacking EOF1 often collapsed and were more porous than normal. In experiments, almost no mosquito embryos in the EOF1-disrupted eggs hatched into larvae, researchers report January 8 in PLOS Biology

Measuring and characterizing night time human behaviour as it relates to residual malaria transmission in sub-Saharan Africa

April Monroe, Sarah Moore, Hannah Koenker, Matthew Lynch and Emily Ricotta
Malaria Journal
While the importance of understanding human-vector interaction is well-established, relatively few studies have included human behaviour when measuring exposure to malaria vectors. . . This information is essential for targeting existing interventions and development and deployment of appropriate complementary prevention tools.

Could gold be key to fighting malaria?

Lily Hess
Southeast Asia Globe
Plasmodium, the parasite that causes the deadly disease malaria, may have met its match. Researchers from the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) and Nanyang Technological University of Singapore have created a range of molecules that contain gold, which was effective in killing the parasite by damaging its metabolic functions. The study, published last December in the journal Dalton Transactions, highlights the gold-based compound that kills the Plasmodium parasite by causing its digestive vacuoles to swell.

Upcoming Events 

Control and combat visceral leishmaniasis (kala-azar)
January 7-February 4, 2019, Webinar
Visceral leishmaniasis (VL) - also known as kala-azar - is endemic in parts of South Asia, East Africa, Southern Europe and South America. It is fatal if untreated, but the tools do exist to control and even eliminate VL transmission in some of these areas. This online course will you give you an understanding of the biology and epidemiology of VL, then explain practical control and elimination tools that you can use to combat it.

22nd Meeting of the WHO Alliance for the Global Elimination of Trachoma by 2020 (GET2020)
April 9-11, 2019, Maputo, Mozambique 
The purpose is to monitor progress towards elimination of trachoma at global level, exchange information and experience on SAFE (surgery, antibiotics, facial cleanliness, environmental improvement) strategy implementation, review partnership opportunities at global, regional and national levels, and discuss obstacles and barriers to the achievements of the elimination of trachoma as a public health problem by 2020.

Women Deliver 2019 Conference 
June 3-6, 2019, Vancouver, Canada
The Women Deliver 2019 Conference – the world’s largest gathering on the health, rights, and wellbeing of women and girls – will serve as a fueling station for advocates working to achieve a more gender equal world. In the summer of 2019, over 6,000 world leaders, influencers, advocates, academics, activists, and journalists will flock to Vancouver with dreams of accelerating progress girls and women everywhere.

6th International Symposium on One Health Research
September 18-19, 2019, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
An opportunity for foreign scientists to interact closely with high-ranking Mongolian leaders who specialize in human and animal research leading to numerous research collaborations and discoveries.

IAPB Council of Members 2019
October 5-8, 2019, Nairobi, Kenya
The next Council of Members will be held 5-8 October 2019 in Nairobi, alongside local partners Sightsavers.