Virtual laboratory for leishmaniasis receives £1 million

A computer-based "virtual laboratory" to search for new treatments for the parasitic disease leishmaniasis will be developed by researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, along with colleagues from the University of York and the University of Glasgow.

The team were given a £1 million award for their virtual laboratory by the CRACK IT Challenges programme, run by the UK's National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs).

Spread by sandfly bites, leishmaniasis causes painful skin ulcers and is a major public health problem in more than 90 countries worldwide. As treatment options are limited and there is currently no vaccine, fatality rates are high among children and young people, and those with suppressed immune systems. 

Professor Simon Croft, Dean of the Faculty of Infectious and Tropical Diseases at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said: "We are working to discover and develop new drugs for treatment and control of one of the most important infectious diseases of poverty. This award from CRACK IT will help us to better predict which new drugs should be developed through a computational approach, which will significantly reduce the number of animals used in research."

The team entered CRACK IT's Virtual Infectious Disease Challenge competition, which aimed to develop a reliable computer-based model of the dynamics of infection and treatment response within an individual host. In December 2013 they won £100,000 to carry out early proof-of-concept studies and then successfully competed against others to win £1 million in the final round of the Challenge.

The computer model that the team will now develop further is intended to help predict the efficacy of drugs, vaccines and other treatments for leishmaniasis.  Use of this technology is expected to significantly reduce the number of rodents needed in the pre-clinical stages of drug and vaccine development, given that a typical rodent efficacy study for new antibiotics or vaccines might involve up to 100 animals per candidate drug.

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