First of its kind vaccine to control parasitic infection Leishmaniasis

As scientists go through the rigmarole of getting a Zika virus vaccine into human trials, a team of researchers is keen on preventing another insect-borne disease called Leishmaniasis. The researchers are working on a vaccine to control the spread of the disease in the Americas.

Researchers from Japan, Brazil, Canada and the United States have worked on altering the parasite’s DNA to create a live-attenuated vaccine using breakthrough gene editing technology, namely CRISPR-cas9. This would be the first vaccine to fight against a parasite once approved.

Beyond a doubt, the neglected tropical diseases can quickly turn into a global health menace as understood from Ebola and Zika outbreaks.

It is said that the vaccine which has been more than 20 years in the making, has the potential to help scientists stop Leishmania infections before they could even start.

The common infection induced by the parasitic protozoa is disfigured skin. These parasites can also remain silently and loiter in the bloodstream, conceal themselves in the immune cells and may firmly embed in the spleen, liver and bone marrow which could prove to be fatal.

50, 000 out of the 2, 000, 000 infected people die each year as the treatments available at this point in time are not only costly but have toxic side effects. This is why the controlling of Leishmaniasis is growing tough in resource-scarce communities. And in addition, the parasite has begun to develop resistance to therapies.

The incidence of Leishmaniasis is high in Asia, the Middle East and Central and South America. The southern US border and Puerto Rico are among other nations where cases of Leishmaniasis are being recorded.

Isolated outbreaks in dog kennels across the United States are also being observed by public health experts as the parasite is easily spread from animals to humans.

The idea that a vaccine could be developed for Leishmaniasis is not new as Leishmanization process was already in practice among few rural communities.

The vaccine is made to be effective against natural infection through sand fly bites and wasn't designed to work in just animal models.

The team is working with an Indian manufacturer that has the ability to manufacture live-attenuated vaccine meeting FDA production standards. India bears about 80% of the world’s Leishmaniasis burden.

 The global research team working on the project includes Shinjiro Hamano, PhD, Institute of Tropical Medicine, Nagasaki University; Greg Matlashewski, PhD, McGill University, Montreal; and Jesus Valenzuela, PhD,National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health along with Abhay Satoskar, MD, PhD, a microbiologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and Center for Microbial Interface Biology and Hira Nakhasi, PhD, a researcher with the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA).

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