Basic question yields possible strategy for combating major tropical disease

Drs. Kanneganti and Gurung

Researchers like to ask basic questions about how the world and the things in it work. Answers to those questions can advance science and protect health.

A recent example comes from the St. Jude lab of Thirumala-Devi Kanneganti, PhD, Immunology. Scientists wanted to know more about how one branch of the disease-fighting immune system influences another in response to parasite infections. The researchers wound up discovering a possible strategy for fighting the most common form of a major tropical disease.

The disease is cutaneous leishmaniasis. It is caused by a parasite that spreads through the bite of infected sand flies. The infection causes skin sores that sometimes take years to heal. The results can lead to scarring and disability. Each year leishmaniasis kills thousands of people in some of the world’s poorest countries and sickens more than 1.3 million. In many countries, children are particularly vulnerable.

Researchers showed that blocking a protein named interleukin 18 (IL-18) protected specially bred mice from the infection. The results suggest that developing drugs that neutralize IL-18 could lead to better prevention and treatment of the disease.

This research appeared in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

February 18, 2015

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