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Dr. Jude Uzonna

Dr. Jude Uzonna, associate professor, immunology and medical microbiology

New research may lead to vaccine for parasitic disease

October 23, 2015 — 

Promising research from the University of Manitoba is raising new hopes in the fight against a pervasive and potentially deadly disease that affects millions around the world and is increasingly expanding to non-traditional locations.

Phlebotomus papatasi, the sand fly // Photo: Frank Collins

Phlebotomus papatasi, the sandfly // Photo: Frank Collins

Leishmaniasis is a parasitic disease found in parts of the tropics, subtropics and southern Europe and is spread by the bite of infected sandflies. According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 1.3 million cases of leishmaniasis occur annually, leading to 20,000-30,000 deaths. The disease is rapidly spreading to other areas of the world due to increased international travel, globalization and military conflicts.

In an article published this week in Science Translational Medicine, Dr. Jude Uzonna, associate professor, immunology and medical microbiology, College of Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences and his research team have isolated an antigen that boosts immunity against the disease.

“There is currently no clinically effective vaccine against leishmaniasis. We identified a cross-species antigen called PEPCK that induces a robust response in both mice and humans,” says Dr. Uzonna, Manitoba Health Research Chair Professor in Immunology. “Our vaccination experiments clearly show that PEPCK is an important vaccine candidate for cross-species protection against leishmaniasis.”

“This research is an incredible breakthrough that has the potential to protect millions of people around the world and save lives,” said Dr. Digvir Jayas, University of Manitoba vice-president (research and international) and Distinguished Professor. “This study shows, once again, how the innovative research coming out of the U of M is making a positive impact globally.”

The findings of the article have already sparked interest from as far away as Brazil and the United Kingdom.

“Our study rekindles hope for the potential and real possibility of developing a cross-species protective vaccine against the disease,” says Dr. Uzonna. “It also provides a new perspective and approach to assessing and identifying mechanisms of immunity against leishmaniasis and critical new information that could help vaccine designs and vaccination strategies against the disease.”

More on the study can be found on the Science Translational Medicine website.

Research at the University of Manitoba is partially supported by funding from the Government of Canada Research Support Fund.

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