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University of York given Global Challenges funding to fight parasitic disease

Heslington Hall at the University of York. Image credit: Hull York Medical School (HYMS) MedSoc
Heslington Hall at the University of York. Image credit: Hull York Medical School (HYMS) MedSoc
Heslington Hall at the University of York. Image credit: Hull York Medical School (HYMS) MedSoc

Scientists from the University of York and Hull York Medical School have been awarded two new grants to assist them in tackling the parasitic disease leishmaniasis.

The award is part of the new £1.5bn Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), which functions through the Medical Research Council’s (MRC) Foundation Awards (Infections) scheme. In total, the scheme consists of 41 funded projects, targeted at improving the health and wellbeing of millions of people from low and middle income countries (LMICs).

Leishmaniasis is spread by bites from sand flies, and is a poverty-related disease. Some forms are fatal without treatment, whereas others can nonetheless cause significant scarring, leading to social exclusion, particularly for child and female sufferers. Visceral Leishmaniasis (VL), the most severe form of the disease, is responsible for approximately 20,000 deaths each year, mostly in East Africa, South Asia and Brazil. Although Leishmaniasis afflicts people in over 98 countries, research into its prevention and cure has been severely neglected.

Jeremy Mottram, Professor of Pathogen Biology and lead investigator for the study, commented:

“350 million people are at risk of contracting leishmaniasis, and it has severe costs in both health and economic terms, draining resources that could be used to promote the growth of developing nations. There is no effective vaccine against the disease and chemotherapy is currently the prime treatment… By understanding how the environment in which the parasite lives influences its susceptibility to drugs and the molecular mechanisms of drug resistance, we hope to be able to develop new intervention strategies to combat visceral leishmaniasis in Brazil.”

In the second stage of the project, York scientists will work in conjunction with the Universities of Sao Paulo in Brazil and Sri Jayewardenepura in Sri Lanka, as well as with the Institute of Post Graduate Medical Education and Research (IPGMER) in India.

Professor Deborah Smith, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research, summarised:

“These awards are a testament to the quality of research undertaken in the Centre for Immunology and Infection and excellent examples of the internationally competitive research being undertaken by the University within its strategic research theme of Health and Wellbeing.”