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Control of leishmaniasis, from bench to bedside and community

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - EUROLEISH-NET (Control of leishmaniasis, from bench to bedside and community)

Reporting period: 2017-01-01 to 2018-12-31

The aim of this Marie Sklodowska-Curie – Innovative Training Network project entitled “Control of leishmaniasis, from bench to bedside and community” (EUROLEISH.NET) was to train the next generation of scientists who will contribute to the control of leishmaniasis. Leishmaniasis is a Neglected Infectious Disease claiming thousands of lives each year worldwide. Not only is it a major public health issue it is also a concern among veterinarians in Europe. Public and private research centres of excellence in Europe and abroad joined forces to develop innovative tools for the control of leishmaniasis. The multidisciplinary training programme combined basic and translational research to provide integrated solutions for the improvement of diagnosis, treatment and prevention of leishmaniasis worldwide.
The aim of’s research programme was to develop new tools and strategies that contribute to the leishmaniasis control efforts worldwide. The research objectives for this training programme were defined based on research priorities and to maximize the interaction and complementarities among research groups in the network.
• Objective 1: To develop and evaluate new tools to diagnose and treat leishmaniasis.
• Objective 2: To develop and evaluate new tools to prevent leishmaniasis.
The research programme was based on a series of fifteen individual projects conducted by early-stage researchers (ESR) hosted in nine research institutions, both academic and non-academic, in Europe. Over twenty five institutions in Europe and abroad contributed to the different projects and provided training to the fellows.
EUROLEISH.NET was also designed to ensure (1) the Interdisciplinarity by promoting the exchange of skills and experiences between fellow and research groups working on different disciplines and (2) the Multidisciplinarity by enhancing the use of different methodologies, approaches and resources to achieve the network objectives.
The EUROLEISH.NET fellows had the opportunity to collaborate with non-academic institutions as part of their project. These interactions have contributed to the development of new tools for leishmaniasis control and the career of the fellows. The EUROLEISH.NET has undoubtedly shaped the future of leishmaniasis control by training an excellent cohort of young researchers and creating new collaborations among academic and non-academic institutions interested in developing and implementing the best tools to control this neglected infectious disease.
Fifteen Early-Stage Researchers from diverse backgrounds (molecular biology, veterinary medicine, health economy, etc.) were recruited in 2015. The 15 research projects included eight studies to development of new tools or strategies to diagnose or treat leishmaniasis (Obj. 1) such as “Novel models for the development of treatments for Cutaneous Leishmaniasis” (Project 1.3) “Diagnostic mimotopes for antibody detection in visceral leishmaniasis” (Project 1.5) or “A Leishmania knowledge center to support health care professionals and patients” (Project 1.8). Seven fellows worked on new preventive measures including innovative vaccines and vector control tools (Obj. 2) in studies such as “Development of a multi-epitope peptide vaccine against human leishmaniases” (Project 2.1) “Systemic insecticides in dogs to control zoonotic visceral leishmaniasis” (Project 2.4) or “Development of new Sand fly exposure markers to evaluate vector control tools” (Project 2.6).
As part of the project the fellows had the opportunity to interact with their peers and senior researchers during the network meetings (Barcelona 2015, London 2016, Antwerp 2017 and Barcelona 2018) where they presented their progress. These meetings were also used to train the fellows in different transdisciplinary skills such as scientific writing and communication, ethics, etc.
By the end of the action eight of the fellows have submitted their PhD thesis and four have already received a PhD degree. The fellows have published 31 scientific papers so far and they participated in a large number of dissemination activities including presentations in scientific conferences and outreach activities (e.g. workshops in schools, Science Slam).
The EUROLEISH.NET has allowed training a cohort of junior scientists who will lead the global research efforts to control leishmaniasis and other infectious diseases in the future. European centres of excellence, both academic and non-academic, involved in the network provided a stimulating training environment and as such consolidated and nurtured years of international exchange and cooperation between them, working in the spirit of a European research area. The research and training programmes implemented in EUROLEISH.NET have had a direct impact on the (1) researchers’ career, (2) the institutions involved in the network and (3) on leishmaniasis control. A number of new tools and strategies to prevent, diagnose and treat different forms of leishmaniasis have been developed and evaluated. Some of the results of the action are highlighted here.
The control of leishmaniasis is essentially dependent on the diagnosis and treatment of cases however the arsenal of diagnostic tests and antileishmanial drugs currently available is limited and must be protected and expanded. Dr Hinckel based in Coris Bioconcept (Belgium) contributed to the development and evaluation of a test to monitor the treatment outcome in visceral leishmaniasis (Project 1.4). Dr Wijnant from LSTHM (UK) evaluated new drugs to treat cutaneous leishmaniasis and developed a new technique called skin microdialysis to measure pharmacologically active drug concentrations in the skin (Project 1.3). Dr Hefnawy at ITM (Belgium) partnered with GSK (Spain) to improve the process to develop antileishmanial drugs by using resistant parasites to screen new candidates early in the early stages of product development (Project 1.2). Finally, Ms Aerts from ISGlobal (Spain) and Ms Sunyoto from ITM (Belgium) have evaluated the impact of the Public-Private-Partnership model in the development and access of drugs and diagnostic tests for neglected infectious diseases, and leishmaniasis in particular (Projects 1.6 and 1.7).
Prevention is the second pillar of leishmaniasis control. As for case management the number of preventive tools is limited. In particular, canine leishmaniasis represents a serious veterinary problem in Europe and a major public health issue in other endemic areas. As part of EUROLEISH.NET Dr Velez (ISGlobal – Spain) evaluated a vaccine to prevent canine leishmaniasis under field conditions in Spain (Project 2.7). Ms Lison (Warwick Uni – UK) and Ms Wilson (CUNI – Czech Republic) developed and evaluated tests to identify dogs contributing most to transmission of Leishmania parasites (Project 2.5) and dogs exposed to vectors (Project 2.6) respectively. Finally, Dr Ares (ISGlobal – Spain) demonstrated that the use of systemic insecticides in dogs could be used as public health intervention in endemic areas to reduce the risk of Leishmania infection in humans (Project 2.4).
The progress made by the EUROLEISH.NET fellows and the institutions involved in the network will allow improving the control of leishmaniasis in Europe and other endemic areas. The cohort of researchers trained and the new collaborations established as part of this action will allow strengthen Europe’s position in neglected infectious diseases research.
Consortium at final meeting