DEVELOPING A LOW-COST NON-HUMAN-INFECTIVE MODEL SYSTEM TO STUDY THE CAUSATIVE AGENT OF AFRICAN SLEEPING SICKNESS
The parasitic protozoan Trypanosoma brucei the causative agent of Human African trypanosomiasis (HAT), also known as sleeping sickness, a neglected tropical disease that has a significant impact on the human populations in Sub-Saharan Africa. HAT constitutes a serious health risk to ~60 million people (WHO) and is ranked second and fourth cause of death and increase in disability adjusted life years among vector-borne tropical diseases, respectively. There is an urgent need for more research in this area, to better understand the biology of this organism and identify novel drug targets as current therapeutics are largely ineffective.
Studies on human pathogenic trypanosomatids, has been hampered by the need to culture these organisms safely in a laboratory, requiring dedicated containment facilities. However, these are far more expensive to build, maintain and equip as experimental apparatus cannot be moved in and out of the containment without rigorous decontamination. This consequently renders research in this field unattractive and impractical in a resource-limited country like Malawi.
The aim of this project is to develop a model system that can be used to study trypanosome/kinetoplastid biology without the need for costly facilities and the accompanying safety issues. The related non-human-infective trypanosomatid parasite Crithidia fasciculata is a suitable model-system. Unlike other trypanosomatids, the protozoan C. fasciculata can be easily and inexpensively grown in liquid culture in a standard laboratory without safety concerns and is amenable to molecular genetics and biochemical analysis.
We anticipate identifying novel and trypanosome-unique proteins which will be functionally characterised and validated as potential drug targets in T. brucei. We hope this project will revolutionise and develop capacity for safe, effective and low-cost trypanosomal research, not only in Malawi, but in Africa as whole.
Stuart A. MacNeill (Supervisor, Biomedical Sciences Research Complex B306, University of St Andrews, United Kingdom)
Terry K. Smith (Co-supervisor, Biomedical Sciences Research Complex B306, University of St Andrews, United Kingdom)
Fanuel Lampiao (Co-supervisor, Department of Basic medical sciences, College of medicine, University of Malawi)