M Leighton1; S L Cobb1; P Denny1; E Pohl1; P G Steel1; G Sandford1;
1 Durham University, UK
DiscussionWhilst almost everyone has heard of malaria, mention Chagas disease or leishmaniasis and most faces are blank. The GCRF-funded, Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs), based in Durham and spanning South America, Asia and the UK, has a mandate to find new drug targets for these NTDs.The ~500 million people worldwide considered as ‘at risk’ from Chagas disease and leishmaniasis is an underestimate. These trypanosome-mediated NTDs are associated with populations in extreme poverty across Asia, Africa and South America, in remote, rural areas where data is under-recorded and clinical resources are limited. Infections are often symptom-free, persisting undiagnosed for years before their consequences appear as major organ failure (heart and gut tissues are affected by Chagas disease, whilst visceral leishmaniasis attacks the spleen and liver). Infections are now spreading to new areas - including the southern US and Europe.Our current treatments, non-specific chemotherapeutics, are over 40 years old, have limited efficacy, and themselves can be lethal. We lack effective, simple-to-administer alternatives that combat the parasites without harming patients. One reason behind this shortfall is that without parasite-specific molecules to use as targets in screens for new compounds, the costs of drug development are prohibitive. Another factor is that these trypanosomes have an ‘odd’ physiology, meaning that these organisms lack the molecular machinery needed for many standard genetic and cell biology techniques. Relatively few researchers are available in endemic countries with the advanced skills required to study these organisms, and identify and validate the necessary in-parasite molecular targets. A Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases includes parasitologists, chemists, immunologists and structural biologists. Our shared vision is to grow a worldwide collaborative network that harnesses expertise from both academic and industrial sources. We believe this combined approach is vital for attaining a truly sustainable solution to Chagas disease and leishmaniasis. Our NTD Network supports multidisciplinary research collaborations between members via:- 6-month, ‘pump priming’ projects - 2-year, ‘proof of concept’ investigations (PDRA funding) - Supported researcher secondmentsFunding opportunities for partners external to the Network membership include:- ‘Seed corn’ industrial partnership projects- Industrial-academic 'sandpit' events (for networking and creative thinking)- Training in CRISPR-Cas9 and other skills shortages for early career NTD researchers from endemic countries and the UK- Themed symposia (e.g. as an addition to your specialist meeting)- Travel bursaries for Network-relevant meetings/conference attendance- PhD/PDRA positionsFor further information and alerts for upcoming opportunities, sign up at https://ntd-network.org/.