The Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis has announced a five-year, $13 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to improve efforts to eliminate two parasitic diseases, elephantiasis (lymphatic filariasis) and river blindness (onchocerciasis), in the developing world.
The grant will support a new project in which scientists at multiple universities work to determine whether existing drugs given in different doses and combinations can be more effective than current treatments. At WUSTL, a team will test the costs and benefits of twice-yearly mass drug administration versus the standard annual treatment of filarial infections. At the same time, scientists at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine will conduct two clinical trials of different treatments for lymphatic filariasis and one trial of new treatments for onchocerciasis, while scientists at Michigan State University and McGill University will review all available information on the drug flubendazole to determine how best to reformulate it for use against human filarial infections. Developed in the 1970s to fight lymphatic filariasis, the drug has been effective when administered by injection to animals and humans, though it can cause severe reactions in humans.
According to the World Health Organization, lymphatic filariasis, which is caused by tiny worms spread by mosquito bites, is a leading cause of disability worldwide, infecting an estimated 120 million people and causing symptoms in 40 million people. Onchocerca volvulus, which causes onchocerciasis, is spread by black fly bites and occurs mainly in Africa, where it infects an estimated 20 million people and has caused blindness in approximately 300,000 people.
"This project will work to optimize treatments that already are being used to help hundreds of millions of people," said Gary Weil, the project's principal investigator. "We have simple and cost-effective treatments for many neglected tropical diseases, and for a cost of about 50 cents per person we can alleviate a tremendous amount of human suffering and disability and...eliminate some of these diseases permanently."
“WUSTL Receives $13 Million Gates Foundation Global Health Grant Toward Elimination of Tropical Diseases.” Washington University School of Medicine Press Release 1/28/10.