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SCOOTT project's quest to control river blindness

Onchocerciasis, commonly known as river blindness, is the world's third-leading infectious cause of blindness. Researchers and medical experts from Europe and Africa are working together to get a handle on this disease. The work is part of the SCOOTT ('Sustainable control of o...

Onchocerciasis, commonly known as river blindness, is the world's third-leading infectious cause of blindness. Researchers and medical experts from Europe and Africa are working together to get a handle on this disease. The work is part of the SCOOTT ('Sustainable control of onchocerciasis today and tomorrow') project, funded under the 'Specific international scientific cooperation activities' (INCO) Thematic area of the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6). Funding for the project stands at EUR 2.8 million. During a recent workshop in Cameroon, the researchers and experts brainstormed ways to control onchocerciasis. SCOOTT coordinator Professor William David Taylor of the University of Edinburgh in the UK highlighted the major achievements of SCOOTT to date, and Dr Benjamin Makepeace of the UK's Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, a SCOOTT partner, spoke at length about antibiotic treatment of the disease in cattle as experimental models. Despite the challenges the SCOOTT partners are facing, such as lack of appropriate testing models, they have successfully identified bovine and mouse models for use, according to the project partners. Professor Meba Banla of the University of Lomé in Togo discussed ocular onchocerciasis with joint ivermectin and doxycycline treatment, while Professor Adjei Ohene of the Ghana-based Kumasi Collective Research Centre spoke about antibiotic treatment of onchocerciasis in humans. According to the researchers, combination therapy with ivermectin for selected indications, not mass treatment, will deliver a short-term impact while providing a framework for the longer term vision of integrated chemotherapy-vaccine control of river blindness. SCOOTT, which is due to end in October 2010, is seeking to refine chemotherapeutic regimes that are available on the market and to identify new targets and approaches for integrated control that would combine chemotherapy with vaccination. This would help ensure sustainable control of the disease. The consortium is combining community-based clinical studies with laboratory trials, and using model systems to lay out the groundwork for vaccine development. To date, they have found that doxycycline could be administered in areas that are endemic to another filarial (i.e. related to or infested with or transmitting parasitic worms) pathogen called loiaisis or Loa Loa. The researchers and medical experts have been trying to tackle river blindness in Cameroon and sub-Saharan Africa for more than two decades. SCOOTT member Dr Nicholas Tendongfor of the Research Foundation in Tropical Diseases and Environment in Cameroon has confirmed an 80% drop in river blindness cases in areas where doxycycline has been administered, with the cure duration being 42 days for a patient. This is a positive development because the previous drug, ivermectin, is administered to a patient for 16 years before any conclusive result can be produced regarding a cure. River blindness is caused by a parasitical worm, Onchocerca volvulus. The worm larvae are spread by the Simulium black fly, which transmits the disease when it bites people. Latest data show that river blindness affects around 18 million people in Africa and South America, and experts say that if people are infected at birth, it is common for them to become blind by the time they reach their 40s.

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