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IDRI Awarded $7 Million Grant From the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to Fight Visceral Leishmaniasis in Africa

Thursday, December 18, 2008 General News J E 4
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SEATTLE, Dec. 18 IDRI (Infectious Disease ResearchInstitute) today announced it has received a 3-year, $7 million grant from theBill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop new methods of diagnosis and caremanagement for patients in Africa who are infected with Leishmania donovani --the parasite that causes visceral leishmaniasis (VL) in the region.

Visceral leishmaniasis is a serious, potentially lethal, systemicparasitic illness that has caused epidemics in India, Africa, and LatinAmerica. Leishmania parasites are transmitted to humans through the bite ofinfected sandflies. Patients with VL develop infections of their liver,spleen, and bone marrow and may die if the infection goes untreated. About500,000 new cases of VL occur each year, and 10% of these patients -- mostlychildren -- die because their disease cannot be accurately diagnosed in atimely fashion.

"Effective diagnostic tools are critical to fight debilitating diseases,like visceral leishmaniasis, that afflict the world's poorest people," saidDeborah Burgess, Senior Program Officer, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation."IDRI's work to develop accurate, affordable and simple diagnostic tests couldfacilitate early detection of VL, making current treatments more effective anddecreasing transmission rates."

Most VL cases occur in poor populations living in remote areas far fromhealthcare centers where the disease often co-exists with malaria andother debilitating parasitic infections that exhibit similar symptoms,making diagnosis difficult. In these challenging conditions, traditionallabor-intensive and complex diagnostic procedures -- invasive removal of bonemarrow, spleen, and lymph node tissues for microscopic examination andisolation of the parasite by culture -- are simply not feasible.

Ajay Bhatia, the Principal Investigator for the project at IDRI,commented: "Several diagnostic tests for leishmaniasis have been developedthat are based on the detection of antibodies in the serum, but none aresufficiently accurate, rapid or affordable to reliably diagnose the disease inthis setting. We will work to develop new tools specifically designed to meetthe needs of the African population."

In addition to diagnosing VL disease, new tests are also needed to bettermonitor the efficacy of treatment and to determine when a patient is cured.Such tests should also allow clinicians to identify immunocompromised patientsinfected with Leishmania parasites, as well as to distinguish between infectedand cured individuals.

"In the difficult and complex task of controlling VL in Africa, betterdiagnostics and tests of cure will be critical. We take pride in leading thefight against a disease that has been largely ignored for many years," saidSteven Reed, Founder and Head of IDRI's Research and Development Program.

IDRI has been working on leishmaniasis for more than 15 years, applyingits expertise to the development of both vaccines and diagnostics. IDRI isactively developing a therapeutic leishmaniasis vaccine designed to be used inconjunction with chemotherapy. This candidate vaccine is currently beingtested in several countries. If successful, both diagnostic and therapeutictools would complement each other to provide an improved strategy againstleishmaniasis.

About IDRI

IDRI is a Seattle-based not-for-profit organization committed to applyinginnovative science to the research and development of products to prevent,detect, and treat infectious diseases of poverty. By integrating capabilities,IDRI strives to create an efficient pathway bringing scientific innovationfrom the lab to the people who need it most. For more information, go tohttp://www.idri.org.

SOURCE Infectious Disease Research Institute
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