UC, partner researchers receive $6M to target Chagas’ disease, dengue, onchocerciasis.
Researchers at UC San Francisco, UC Berkeley and partner institutions are receiving $6 million to speed development of new tools and technologies that will address three neglected tropical diseases that place a huge health and economic burden on people in Central and South America: Chagas’ disease, dengue and onchocerciasis.
Led by scientists at UCSF Global Health Sciences and funded jointly by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Instituto Carlos Slim de la Salud (the Carlos Slim Health Institute), the two-year project is titled FIRST (Fighting Infections through Research, Science, and Technology). The research, which is already under way, will focus on Mesoamerica, which comprises the Southern states of Mexico and Central America from Guatemala to Panama. A significant number of people, mainly of indigenous descent, live in poverty in these countries, making them vulnerable to illness and death.
FIRST promises to address three diseases that collectively affect billions of people worldwide, and have significant health and economic effects, by helping to find better treatments, more effective vaccines and other ways to prevent them.
“We are selecting projects that will give us quick wins, allowing us to make a huge impact immediately, as well as game-changing, high-risk research that will make a significant impact in the long term,” said Jaime Sepulveda, M.D., M.P.H., M.Sc., Dr.Sc., the executive director of UCSF Global Health Sciences.
“Although transmission of onchocerciasis has been interrupted in Mesoamerica, many indigenous communities are still at high-risk because current treatments do not kill the adult worms,” said Jim McKerrow, the principal investigator on the onchocerciasis project and a UCSF professor of pathology. “We will carry out a clinical trial with collaborators in Cameroon and the UK to determine whether Auranofin, an FDA approved drug, can be repurposed as a macrofilaricide to kill adult worms.”
The aims of the other projects in the FIRST portfolio include developing:
- Low-cost diagnostic tools for early detection of dengue
- Information systems that will provide early warnings of dengue outbreaks
- New tests to guide dengue vaccine development
- A cell phone app for crowdsourcing mosquito control
- New, less toxic drugs for Chagas’ disease
- Better biomarkers to monitor treatment of Chagas’ disease.
In addition to UCSF, researchers whose work will be funded by this project are affiliated with Blood Systems Research Institute, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, Sustainable Sciences Institute in San Francisco and Nicaragua, UC Berkeley, UC San Diego, UC Santa Cruz, University of North Carolina, and University of Sao Paulo.