Human leishmaniasis is an insect-borne neglected tropical disease prevalent in 88 countries across all continents except Antarctica. Disease ranges from localized cutaneous lesions (cutaneous leishmaniasis), to the more lethal visceral leishmaniasis, where parasites invade visceral organs. Collectively, the disease affects more than 12 million of the world’s population for which as yet, not a single vaccine has made it to a stage that can be considered effective. Moreover, current treatment strategies are unable to achieve a sterile cure. In order to understand the correlates of host protection and susceptibility, which could aid in the development of novel treatment strategies and/or vaccines, our team uses a range of genetic, immunological, cellular and molecular techniques to examine host-pathogen interactions in a murine model of human leishmaniasis. Specifically, we focus on targeting host genes/proteins/pathways to enhance host-protective immunity during Leishmania infection, drug treatment and vaccination. While SA is non-endemic for human leishmaniasis, high-burden countries are evident in North, East, West and Central Africa. Importantly, with the recent identification of the parasite vector in Botswana, it is probable that cases of Leishmania in SA is an imminent possibility. Thus, a concerted effort to expand this research field is urgently required in SA. Our growing research team, together with the Division of Immunology, Faculty of Health Sciences, UCT (currently the only two teams in South Africa researching this parasite) are aimed at achieving this.
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